It all started back in 1809 in England with the first running of the Two Thousand Guineas, a pre-Derby test for 3-year-olds in April at the distance of one mile. This was followed in June by the 1½-mile Epsom Derby and in September by the St. Leger Stakes at a mile and three-quarters. The British considered a thoroughbred a true champion if he could carry off a sprint victory in the spring, win the Derby and handle a marathon in early fall. No horse wore this English version of the Triple Crown until 1853 and since then only 15 horses have managed the feat, the last being the late Charles Engelhard's Nijinsky in 1970.
Today U.S. racing is up to its hocks in Triple Crown talk and not all of it centers around Secretariat and what he might or might not achieve in the Belmont Stakes on June 9. With this week's running of the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont, Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint renew a rivalry that carries the East's handicap division through the first leg of its own Triple Crown. That battle continues in the mile-and-three-sixteenths Brooklyn Handicap on July 4 and then in the Suburban Handicap at a mile and a quarter on July 21. While it may seem surprising that only eight colts have won the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont) since Sir Barton got the act started in 1919, it is even more remarkable that in 80 years only three older horses—Whisk Broom in 1913, Tom Fool in 1953 and Kelso in 1961—have accounted for the Handicap Triple Crown.
But wait, let us not ignore the girls, and one especially, a California-bred 3-year-old filly named Windy's Daughter who, exactly one week after Secretariat runs at Belmont, will attempt to capture the Coaching Club American Oaks and complete the Triple Crown for fillies. If she can do it she will join Dark Mirage (1968) and Shuvee (1969) as the three who have.
Windy's Daughter is well on her way to doing what another filly was expected to do this year. Last fall Canada's La Prevoyante, whom many thought to be the equal of Secretariat, reeled off 12 straight victories and was considered so good that there was talk of her tackling the colts in the Derby instead of galloping to a surefire win in the Kentucky Oaks.
But racehorses do more of their maturing between the ages of two and three than at any other stage of their active lives and, unlike Secretariat, a champion at two is not always the best at three. A few years ago Moccasin was virtually unbeatable at two, but then slackened off to become a disappointment the following spring. Something similar happened to La Prevoyante. She has won but two of four races this season, and in her last, the Kentucky Oaks, finished five lengths behind the winner, Bag of Tunes. She has now gone back to Canada where, with rest, she may return to form in time to take on the colts in the Queen's Plate on June 30.
Overlooked almost everywhere but in her native California while La Prevoyante was writing records in the East was another filly, the gutsy chestnut daughter of the sprinter Windy Sea. She may not have won 12 in a row, but Windy's Daughter did win seven straight to finish the year undefeated, and now on June 16 she could well make some history of her own.
Windy's Daughter (whose dam, Fleet Judy, is by Fleet Nasrullah) was bred by racetrack caterer Harry Curland and is owned by his daughter, Mrs. Paul Blackman, whose small stable is in the hands of Trainer Tommy Doyle at Hollywood Park. At Belmont, Windy's Daughter is trained by Laz Barrera, and she has responded perfectly to his careful program for her. Early on most horsemen suspected the filly would be incapable of going a distance, but Barrera, assisted by exercise boy Eddie Deas and Jockey Braulio Baeza, gave her special treatment that has led to unexpected results. Deas, who regularly rode Canonero last fall in preparation for his track-record performance of 1:46[1/5] in the Stymie Handicap, was instructed by Barrera to try and build up Windy's stamina with long, slow gallops of as much as two miles. Barrera also hoped that such training would tend to cut down the filly's eagerness and retard her early speed a bit.
At Santa Anita last winter in her first race over a mile, Windy was handily beaten by Belle Marie. But later at Aqueduct, after seeing her win the six-furlong Prioress and lose the seven-furlong Comely to Java Moon, Barrera decided to put her in the one-mile Acorn, the first of the filly Triple Crown races. She led every step of the way and beat Poker Night (who had already defeated both top older fillies, Summer Guest and Numbered Account) by a length. If she could do that against class competition, reasoned Barrera, let's see what she could do in the second leg of the Triple, the mile-and-an-eighth Mother Goose.
Why not? And last Saturday at Belmont under Eddie Belmonte, who was subbing for the grounded Baeza, Windy blew the rest of the field right off the track. Barreling out of the No. 7 stall, she immediately took the lead and held it when first Java Moon and later Tommy's Girl and Voler tried to take it away from her. Windy still had it at the finish, by a nose, over long-shot Lady Love, who came charging through on the rail to make a thrilling race of it down the stretch.
Not only has Windy's Daughter now won 12 of 15 starts—10 of them have been stakes victories—and $304,682, she has given California breeding a boost with a victory over some notably bred and promising Eastern fillies. As she crossed the finish line in the stakes-tying record time of 1:48⅖ the Curland family could note with satisfaction that Windy numbered among her victims daughters of Bold Ruler, Tom Rolfe, Graustark, Herbager, Dr. Eager, Prince John, Vertex and Stage Door Johnny.
"Not bad, was it?" said an excited Mrs. Blackman as she sipped champagne later. "I guess we've got to go for the Oaks next," added Trainer Barrera. "But I've got to slow her down somehow. With her speed she'll never last a mile and a half."
Maybe not, but don't rush to bet against a Triple Crown candidate this year.