The seventh race at Pimlico last Saturday offered a modest $12,000 purse in honor of the 1971 Preakness victor, Canonero. A 4-year-old gelding named Chateauvira won the event and a small trophy for his owner, 33-year-old William S. Farish III. There was a smattering of applause as Farish received the prize and posed with Trainer Del Carroll and Jockey Eldon Nelson. Then, as the Houston financier and mining executive walked off, a friend shouted, "Hey, Will, that's half the day's work. Now go get the big one." The owner turned and agreeably underlined the obvious. "The eighth is a little tougher," he allowed.
And so it should have been, this 97th running of the Preakness. But the winning trio in the seventh was back an hour later receiving a far bigger trophy when Farish's 19-to-1 shot Bee Bee Bee ran away from Kentucky Derby hero Riva Ridge. This was not to be an occasion to chant "Viva Riva" or even "Viva Key to the Mint" (Paul Mellon's colt had been considered the most likely to succeed if the favorite failed).
Racing attendances are faltering in some parts of the country, but a record crowd of close to 50,000 squeezed into the ancient Baltimore course to cheer the Maryland-bred to his surprising victory. Some spectators, no doubt, remembered Bee Bee Bee had raced last fall at Timonium, a half-mile track out in the countryside. Bee Bee Bee had looked like a champion there, winning one start by 17 lengths, but when he appeared on the major tracks in Florida this past winter he had been outdistanced, trounced in one race by 20 lengths. Upper Case drubbed him by 7½ in the Florida Derby and Hold Your Peace overwhelmed him by 13 in the Flamingo. It was not until Bee Bee Bee shipped home to Maryland that he was able to win. He scored impressively in two minor events at Pimlico, a track he obviously favors.
It rained steadily during most of the day and night before the Preakness and by post time the track was a slick lake. But Bee Bee Bee, with the 44-year-old Nelson up, seemed surefooted, leading nearly every step of the mile and [3/16]ths distance. Behind him the other colts were either staggering from fatigue or skidding in the slop. Bee Bee Bee had a four-length lead with only an eighth of a mile to go, a wide enough margin to hold off fast-finishing No Le Hace. This colt came from last place with a brave but futile run to be beaten a length and a half. Far behind him was Key to the Mint, who edged Riva Ridge by a neck for third money.
Some fun and a modicum of suspense preceded the latest Preakness upset. A facile rivalry exists between Lucien Laurin, who handles Riva Ridge, and his longtime friend Elliott Burch, the trainer of Key to the Mint. While the two horsemen held court at opposite ends of Barn E, there were few visitors to Barn 7 on the backstretch except Farish and his family. Occasionally someone who was adrift and looking for the stakes barn would stop by to ask where the glamour colts were stabled.
The suspense, such as it was, hung precariously on Laurin's intentions for Upper Case, a stablemate of Riva Ridge. The trainer entered his second-string colt, who relishes sloppy going, in the Preakness; then scratched him on the morning of the race when there was enough slop to fill in part of the Grand Canyon. Laurin said he was saving Upper Case for another big race in the next two weeks and that Owner Mrs. Penny Tweedy had told him, "Let's win this fair and square. Let's aim high with just one—the colt we know is the best." Other horsemen thought Upper Case would improve so much in the mud that he might actually win and thereby spoil his stablemate's chances for a Triple Crown. But the most likely explanation for the delayed decision regarding Upper Case was that Laurin, like any trainer looking for two slices of the $187,800 purse, always wanted to run an entry, but that Mrs. Tweedy, after consulting with her turf adviser, A. B. (Bull) Hancock, had decided well in advance of Preakness Day to go it alone with Riva. Slop or no slop. Upper Case was kept in the race until the final moment only as insurance in case an injury befell Riva Ridge.
As he had been prior to the Derby, Laurin was criticized by some for not working his colt sufficiently before the Preakness. The trainer defended his schedule and said, "Riva is hard as a board and fit as any horse I've ever seen. If anything, I've done too much with him." While fully believing the colt could cope with any kind of running surface, Laurin had two concerns. He confided to friends that Riva might not like his races close together. The Derby, easy as that victory seemed, had been just two weeks before. Laurin's second worry, which he concealed from none, was Elliott Burch: "I'm always frightened of him. I was when I had Dike and he had Arts and Letters in the 1969 Derby. We both were defeated by Majestic Prince, but Burch beat me for second."
This rivalry was only to be a supporting element in the drama of the Preakness. From the start Bee Bee Bee was after the leading role. Breaking from the outside, Eldon Nelson urged his colt in front as the field sped past the stands the first time. Eager Exchange tried to force the pace but quickly gave up, and Key to the Mint and Riva Ridge took up the pursuit. Laurin thought Riva had a rough trip during the early part of the race, but Rider Ron Turcotte later declared, "Sure, my colt broke in something of a tangle, but there was never contact with another horse. His only excuse was the muddy going, which I thought he'd like, but which he showed us he didn't." Key to the Mint had the same alibi.
With this pair steadily tracking Bee Bee Bee up the backstretch, the prospect of a tremendous stretch battle was bright. And suddenly there was No Le Hace, a late-coming second in the Kentucky Derby, getting into gear. Somewhere around the quarter pole the script came to pieces. Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint had drawn within two lengths of Bee Bee Bee when they abruptly withered. Now the front-runner opened up a wide lead and, though No Le Hace looked impressive overtaking the two tired pursuers, there was no way he was going to reach the winner in time. "Maybe not," conceded No Le Hace's jockey, Phil Rubbicco, "but when those two colts stopped right in front of me at the head of the stretch, I had to pull wide, and it cost me two or three lengths."
The winning Preakness team is not unknown. Eldon Nelson may not be Shoemaker but he has ridden some fine horses during his career. Farish, whose father owns the Lazy F Ranch in South Texas, has been interested in horses most of his life. Members of his family—his aunt, Mrs. Edward Gerry, and one of his in-laws, Bayard Sharp—have had notable racing success. When he became involved in racing, it was only natural that Farish, a four-goal polo player, chose as his trainer Del Carroll, one of the few high-goal poloists still active in the U.S. Carroll had gained a certain measure of renown in 1966 with his handling of a gutsy colt named Abe's Hope, who very nearly beat Buckpasser in the Flamingo and who a month later (also in deep mud) handed Graustark the only defeat of his short and sweet career.
Last winter, when Chicagoan William Miller, a former Illinois racing commissioner, was involved in a racetrack scandal, he packaged his 20 horses in training and sold the lot to Farish. Included in the group was Bee Bee Bee, a full brother to Abe's Hope, who had won five of nine races and $45,602 as a 2-year-old. Carroll soon noticed that the son of Better Bee was not a good shipper and decided not to rush him to the Kentucky Derby. "I'm not even sure," he said after the Preakness, "if we'll get to the Belmont. It's a long season, and we are in no great hurry."
As the rains came on again Preakness night, Mrs. Tweedy and her lawyer husband Jack were asked the obvious question, "Are you sorry now you didn't start an entry?" Mrs. Tweedy smiled. "You know," she said quietly, "I'm running the race over and over in my mind, and all I can see this time, as they turn for home is...Upper Case...Upper Case...Upper Case."
Mudslinging Bee Bee Bee coasts home in front, having ruined the reputations of (left to right) No Le Hace, Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint.
Nelson wears his years and flowers well.