Skip to main content
Original Issue

The critic's choice

That traveling show which has been playing in Florida, California and New York—with a few side trips to Louisiana and Arkansas—assembles in Louisville for the gala performance this week. The cast consists of a couple of legitimate stars and a carload of unpredictable extras hoping to prove that the mile and a quarter of Saturday's 99th Kentucky Derby will not be a two-horse race between Mrs. Penny Tweedy's heavily favored Secretariat and Sigmund Sommer's Sham.

This week's one-mile Derby Trial probably will raise the hopes of a few more owners and the starting Derby field may number 16 runners. But nothing that happened last week in two Derby prep races should cause either Secretariat or Sham to shiver. The Blue Grass Stakes, a mile and an eighth at Keene-land, was won by Arthur Appleton's My Gallant by a head over Our Native, the colt that had beaten him by the same margin in Hialeah's Flamingo in early March. And on opening day at Churchill Downs, 1-to-2 favorite Shecky Greene, a professional sprinter, proved it again by pinning a five-length defeat on Everglades winner Restless Jet, covering the seven furlongs of the Stepping Stone in a respectable 1:23.

Both these winners are trained by the same man, Lou Goldfine, who until 10 years ago was a pharmacist in Chicago. Goldfine believes that My Gallant (by Belmont Stakes winner Gallant Man) has a better chance in the Derby than Shecky Greene. And yet, possibly against his better judgment, he may run Shecky Greene in the Derby to satisfy owner Joe Kellman. The only way Shecky can win at the Derby distance is to open up 10 lengths and hope that the opposition runs through or over the stable gap on the backstretch. My Gallant must be taken more seriously even though the Blue Grass was his first stakes victory. He ran a commendable race and was slowly drawing away at the finish. As his jockey, Angel Cordero, points out, "That race and the longer homestretch at Churchill Downs certainly will do him no harm."

The disappointment of the Blue Grass was Forego, who took the lead briefly and then tired badly to finish fifth, a length and a half back of Warbucks and Impecunious who dead-heated for third." Warbucks had the best finishing kick of this bunch, and the fact that Bill Hartack will ride him in the Derby counts for something. There is nothing that Har-tack would like to do more than win" his sixth Derby. He now is tied with retired Eddie Arcaro for the most Derby victories. Florida Derby winner Royal and Regal faded to seventh in the Blue Grass after setting the early pace, while Starkers showed next to nothing.

In the Stepping Stone, Restless Jet showed that he deserves a chance at the longer distance, while the others, including Sham's stablemate, Knightly Dawn, were unimpressive.

This brings us to Sham and the Lucien Laurin-trained entry of Angle Light and Secretariat. What has Laurin worried is Secretariat's third-place finish in the Wood Memorial, the colt's first sign of inconsistency. That and the persistent rumors that something is bothering Secretariat. "These stories make me mad," the trainer says. "Anyone is crazy to think I would run any horse at any time unless he was 100% right. Last week Jimmy the Greek claimed my horse was standing in ice with knee troubles and there was talk of laying odds that the colt wouldn't even get to the Derby. Now how do those kinds of stories get started? It beats me; Secretariat has not been put in ice and there's nothing in the world, wrong with him."

Rumors fly around a racetrack, particularly when the subject of the stories is a heavy favorite. It is not unheard of for a Derby favorite to be withdrawn from the race at the last minute. Sir Gaylord (Secretariat's half brother) was scratched less than 48 hours before the 1962 Derby, and Gen. Duke was pulled out in 1957 at 8 o'clock on Derby morning. Nobody would wish this sort of bad luck on Secretariat. But whether he runs or not in the ninth at Churchill Downs on Saturday, I think the winner is going to be an equally beautiful colt named Sham.