From the beginning last week's 95th Preakness was an affair of considerable sentiment. There was the showbiz sentiment that for more than a year now has enveloped Silent Screen, his owner Sonny Werblin and the loud and flashy entourage that trails this team around. There was the feeling inspired by a comparatively new Kentucky combination made up of big-game hunter Robert Lehmann, his sideburned handsome trainer Don Combs and their $6,500 colt Dust Commander, who had startled the racing world by winning the Kentucky Derby. And there was the aura of respect and affection that all U.S. race-goers feel for the family of the late Hirsch Jacobs. Jacobs died three months ago after having saddled more winners 3,596, than any trainer in history.
This distinction always had one flaw in it, for although the Jacobs trophy room was filled with hundreds of cups plates and assorted hardware, Hirsch had never fashioned a victory in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. A week before he died Jacobs called his 35-year-old son John to his bedside and told him. "Don't worry about the gray [High Echelon]. He'll win his share. The real horse for us in 1970 will be Personality."
The day before the Preakness, when some 200 turfmen, the press and Pimlico management gathered at breakfast to discuss the race, a moment of silence was observed in honor of the late master. That evening his widow Ethel, his pretty blonde daughter Patrice and sons Tommy and John attended a track dinner dance. As they sat at their corner table, dozens of well-wishers came by to say hello. More than half wished them luck and really meant it.
On Saturday Hirsch Jacobs would have been proud of his clan, particularly of his son John, now the Jacobs trainer, and of his special colt, Personality, a son of the Jacobses' own stallion Hail to Reason and their alltime favorite race mare Affectionately. For at the end of this dramatic second classic of 1970, there was Personality, under a furious and effective ride by Eddie Belmonte, holding off Old Blood and Guts himself, My Dad George, to win the mile-and-[3/16]ths run by a neck. In John Jacobs' first year as head of the family stable he had accounted for its first classic. Just to add icing to the tasty cake, it turned out that the 95th Preakness was not only the richest race ever taken by a Jacobs horse but also the richest $151,300 for winning, out of a gross purse of $203,800) ever offered the winner of a Triple Crown event.
The way the Preakness was run was no surprise at all, nor was it a great shock to many observers that Dust Commander was so badly beaten, even though he was sent off by the crowd of 42,474 as the second choice at odds of 7 to 2. Having suffered what Trainer Combs diagnosed as a wrenched ankle after his Derby victory, he missed six out of 12 days of training. Despite Combs' optimism during Preakness Week, Lehmann showed up the night before the race and said, half glumly, "After all the things that have happened, I'll be happy to be in the first three." (Following the race the colt's ankle filled again, forcing an indefinite layoff.)
The connections of most of the other runners made various noises that were supposed to express confidence. Some were accurate and convincing, like Trainer Buddy McManus, who said of My Dad George, "We were shuffled around in the first turn at Louisville. This time I look for Silent Screen and Personality to go out there and give us some early speed, and we'll be a lot closer. In the Derby we were 24 lengths behind at one point. Here I'd like to be only about 10 off the pace. We'd have a better chance in the stretch." He was right, and what his horse did was right—almost.
John Jacobs was right, too, when he said he liked Personality's chances better than those of his stablemate, High Echelon, despite the latter's third-place Derby finish. "Personality is more versatile, he is bred to be a better horse and, for this race at least, I've got to stick with him." Everyone was frightened of Silent Screen, even his trainer, Bowes Bond, who, in desperation to get the colt back to his winning ways of 1969, decided to run him for the first time in blinkers. "It's 100 to 1 that blinkers won't help him all that much, but we've got to try something," said Bond. "Maybe he just won't go the distance, but we can't run him the same old way again. Blinkers, we hope, will help him keep his mind on his business." Other horsemen, in agreement that blinkers help a horse only 10% of the time, were inclined to feel that Silent Screen, after missing some two weeks of serious training in Florida, was still "short" for the Derby, and that if he could handle the turns at Pimlico he might take an early lead and hold it.
Most of the others connected with the race didn't sound as if they expected too much. The owners of Naskra admitted they had a high-strung colt. The Oh Fudge people said this Florida-bred was better on grass. And California-based Trainer Bob Wheeler, who suddenly arrived with Nelson Bunker Hunt's Sir Wiggle, admitted, "I was going to send this horse to New York anyway, so I thought I'd stop off here and try one of these Eastern tracks with him."
When Starter Eddie Blind threw the switch, Johnny Rotz broke quickly with Silent Screen but, passing the stands the first time moments later, it was Oh Fudge and Plenty Old who led the way. Silent Screen was third, Robin's Bug fourth and Personality fifth. Behind him came Naskra and Dust Commander, while My Dad George trailed in 10th place. Midway up the backstretch Rotz gave Silent Screen his head and he shot to a quick two-length lead around the far turn. "He handled the turns so well," said Rotz afterward, "that I really thought he'd be able to go on for once."
But Belmonte had moved Personality up into second place on the turn and was closing in on the outside. Mike Manganello, on Dust Commander, suddenly appeared to be gifted with a vast measure of racing luck. He had brought his horse up from seventh to third, and on the turn into the stretch, lo and behold, he found a yawning gap along the rail. Naturally, he drove for it and made it easily. But Dust Commander then faded steadily down the stretch, finishing ninth, and the challenge was taken up along the inside by My Dad George. Personality caught Silent Screen just after they passed the eighth pole, but off to his left thundered My Dad George, with Ray Broussard riding frantically. He had three lengths to make up in 220 yards. Belmonte was whipping Personality, and he kept driving all the way. As he does in all his races, My Dad George dug in and fought, but this time he just couldn't make it, as Personality hung on for that narrow neck margin. He covered his classic distance in 1:56[1/5]. Behind My Dad George, beaten another three lengths, was Silent Screen, who held third place by two lengths over the late-finishing High Echelon.
John Jacobs plans to run Personality and High Echelon in the May 30th Jersey Derby and then the Belmont, and heaven only knows who will still be around to run against them by then. The chances are that My Dad George will be there fighting again, and maybe Naskra. Until then the hour belongs to the family of Hirsch Jacobs.
After the Preakness, John said, "One Derby eve a few years ago we were in a Louisville hotel but couldn't sleep because a bunch of sportswriters next door were carrying on and singing that song with the word 'personality' in it. They sang it over and over again, and my mother couldn't get to sleep. Finally she sat up in bed and said, 'I've heard that word so often tonight we've got to name a horse Personality someday.' "
Last Saturday night they sang about Personality in Baltimore, and the Jacobs family didn't mind a bit.
After his fine run, Personality gets an affectionate ear tweaking from Jockey Belmonte.
The victorious family group includes Mrs. Ethel Jacobs, daughter Patrice and son John.