Wajima is the antithesis of those horse racing legends the public has come to know and love. He is not at all like Stymie, the "ugly duckling" Hirsch Jacobs claimed for $1,500 and trained to such perfection that he earned $918,485. Thus far nobody has compared Wajima to Sea-biscuit, the startling runner Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons could not handle and sold for $7,500—only to see him come back and win 27 stakes. In short, Wajima is not a million-dollar baby found in a five-and-10-cent store; he cost 120 times as much as Man o' War. Thus he has the makings of another kind of legend. Last Saturday afternoon at New York's Belmont Park he proved that he may well be the only truly fine product of runaway inflation.
Two years ago, as Wajima stood in the yearling sales ring at Lexington, Auctioneer George Swinebroad opened the bidding on him at $500,000. Such a thing had never been done before. The pavilion went a little crazy, for buyers know legends, too. Ominous legends. For example, about Reine Enchanteur being sold for $405,000 and earning $9,305. Of Knight's Honor selling for $210,000 and running so poorly that he won just $1,670. And those other yearlings—11 of them—that brought $200,000 or more and did not even get to the races. Swinebroad rapped his gavel for silence and a young man named Jim Scully upped the bid to $600,000. Scully waited for a bid to top his. It never came. Scully had on his hands a handsome colt by Bold Ruler out of Iskra—and the ominous legends.
Scully got to his feet last Saturday at Belmont as the field of seven swung into the stretch curve in the $250,000 1-mile Marlboro Cup. Poor Scully—he had left his binoculars at home, something a horseman never does. With the naked eye he saw a good horse named Ancient Title on the lead and the 1974 Horse of the Year, Forego, saving ground by moving close to the rail. Scully saw the green and yellow colors on Wajima only as a blur, but it was a very fast blur. Wajima was moving with a tremendous rush. A furlong from the finish he hooked up with Forego. They drove to the finish line with Forego drifting out a bit but still hanging on. There is a racing cliché that describes Forego very well: "He is like hickory and will not bend." But Wajima finally bent him, winning by a tough head Scully screamed something incoherent, but by now he was seeing very clearly—black ink on the bottom line, among other things. The Marlboro was Wajima's fifth consecutive stakes victory in two months, and not only did he defeat Forego and Ancient Title but he also beat the Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, by 10 lengths and Belmont winner Avatar by 14. Altogether Wajima has raced only 14 times but he has won $478,988, the bulk of it in the last seven weeks. His value today, as a racehorse and a prospective sire, is more than $5 million.
Indubitably Belmont was a fitting showplace for him: in three years the Marlboro Cup has become the Kentucky Derby of handicap races in this country. The field for the third running had won 59 stakes and more than $4 million. The jockeys had earned more than $100 million. And the horses came from everywhere. Ancient Title shipped East from California in July, bringing with him an entourage of fascinating people and a record of nine stakes victories. Avatar had been waiting in the East for more than a month to run in the Marlboro. Royal Glint, the winner of three $100,000 races in a month, was going to try to prove that those victories had not been earned in shallow water. Foolish Pleasure, heretofore regarded as the year's top 3-year-old, was on hand to try to prove that he could beat a good field, which he had not done since the Derby. Step Nicely was invited because he had been in the money in seven of eight outings this year.
Early in the morning the day before the Marlboro, Keith Stucki, the trainer of Ancient Title, did some backstretch ruminating in Barn 11. "This is the kind of a field in which a man could have his horse finish a decent last and not be disgraced. Title won the Whitney at Saratoga, so you could say that our trip East was worthwhile, right there, but I've got to take my chance at the Marlboro. I'm not saying that the winner becomes Horse of the Year but he would have to have a very good chance. I think it is the best field of horses in many, many years."
Two hours after Ancient Title had finished third in the Marlboro, Stucki stood at the side of a wheelchair on the roof of the grandstand. It was dark and a cold wind ruffled the hair of Stucki's 31-year-old daughter Gay. "We're ready to go anytime you are," Stucki said. Gay Stucki had been instrumental in the development of Ancient Title. She had been his exercise rider until July when another horse bolted under her and crashed to the rail at Hollywood Park, probably paralyzing her legs for life. "There's no rush to go," she said to her father. "You're having a good time."
As the two talked, Steve DiMauro, the trainer of Wajima, eased himself away from a group of well-wishers and walked up to them. "I'm sorry," DiMauro said, "we have never met but I'm...." Gay reached out and shook DiMauro's hand. "I know who you are," she said, "and you've got a magnificent horse. He ran a great race. I'm very happy for you."
For the last two seasons not an awful lot of people would have been happy to be Steve DiMauro. On mornings when he would jump on a stable pony and go to the track alongside Wajima, other trainers would say, "Looks great, Steve. Real great," or, "That's the one, ain't it, Steve? The $600,000 baby?" Once they were out of sight, however, the other trainers would say things like "Name the last good one that cost that kind of money."
Of the 67 highest-priced yearlings ever sold at auction in this country only Majestic Prince, who cost $250,000 and earned $414,200, ever won himself out. DiMauro had first seen Wajima at the 1973 Keeneland sales. He looked at the youngster and admired him but felt "I would never have him." But the night of the sales Jim Scully got a group of people together and they decided they would try to buy the colt.
The group is rather remarkable. Scully is a bloodstock agent from Lexington, Zenya Yoshida a Japanese industrialist, Harold Snyder a plastics and pharmaceutical manufacturer from Dover, Ohio, and James Welch a physician from Louisiana. Their nom de course is East-West Stable and at the end of the year they will get together and draw straws to determine which owner gets to keep which trophy.
Once the group had the colt, they agreed on the name of Wajima at Yoshida's recommendation. It is the name of a 27-year-old, 6', 275-pound Sumo wrestler, Japan's grand champion since 1973. Wajima literally means "Circular Sea," but the wrestler has the reputation of being the playboy of the Eastern world. He is a high liver who drives a gleaming ivory Lincoln Continental.
DiMauro got Wajima to the races quite late. It was Sept. 21 of his 2-year-old season before he first ran, and he won. His debut had been delayed by that most common of horse injuries, bucked shins. Wajima ran only three more times and won once before being tucked away for the winter. One of the defeats was a very good second in the Laurel Futurity. Everyone assumed that he would start a march toward the Triple Crown and fight it out with the unbeaten 2-year-old champion, Foolish Pleasure. But after finishing fifth in the Bahamas at Hialeah at the end of January, Wajima developed a splint on the inside of his left foreleg and had to be taken out of training again, this time until June.
DiMauro had been a jockey for many years but had to quit when his weight got too high, and when he first started training he had to gallop horses to make ends meet. At one stage he had a one-horse stable, Eighteen Crosses—which was claimed from him. DiMauro claimed Eighteen Crosses back, only to discover that the horse had bowed a tendon. It took him a year to get Eighteen Crosses back on the racetrack. Then the horse won at first asking.
Slowly, DiMauro's career developed. In his biggest year before this one his horses earned a little more than $600,000. In 1975 the figure so far is more than $1 million, for in addition to Wajima he also trains Dearly Precious, the 2-year-old filly who has rattled off seven straight stakes and could well be the Ruffian of 1976.
When Wajima began racing again in June he won two allowance events and finished second in the Saranac and Dwyer Handicaps. Since then he has been spectacular, winning the Marylander at Bowie, the Monmouth Invitational, the Travers, the Governor and the Marlboro, in order. His next race may be the Woodward Stakes in New York in September or the richest handicap ever to be run in this country, the $350,000 National Thoroughbred Championship at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Late last Saturday Jim Scully watched the rerun of the patrol films of Wajima's Marlboro victory. "Well," he said, "he's worth every bit of that $600,000 now, isn't he?" And then some.
Driving on the outside in the Marlboro's taut stretch duel, Wajima outruns favored Forego.