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Forego makes it foregone

—or almost: his selection, that is, as Horse of the Year, by drubbing Wajima in the Woodward. And he did it, naturally, in partial Eclipse

Those closest to Forego call him "Big Joe" and hand-feed him sliced apples and pears, while people who try to make a living by running their horses against him say he is a "monster who devours other horses." As the month just past proves, Forego is an extraordinary horse. At Belmont on Sept. 1 the 5-year-old gelding was beaten in the Governor while giving Wajima and Foolish Pleasure, the two best 3-year-olds in training, 19 and nine pounds, respectively. Then came two excellent races at Belmont over "wet-fast" tracks which, because he is a huge horse, put him at a disadvantage. On Sept. 13 he lost the Marlboro Cup to Wajima by a feisty head. And last Saturday in the $108,200 Woodward Stakes, he won handsomely over Wajima, showing more than enough over the 1½ miles to convince many people that, come January, he will be named Horse of the Year for the second straight time.

But only Forego would win a Woodward on the very day that the one remaining baseball pennant race absorbing sports fans was being decided. Pity poor Forego—it is his fate to do the right things at the wrong times.

It seems inexplicable that Forego's records and reputation are so little known beyond thoroughbred racing's tight little community. One explanation is that his owner, Mrs. Martha Gerry, and trainer, Sherrill Ward, are "low-key people." Nonsense. Forego's problem is timing, and has been for three years. When he was foaled, Forego was so "outsized" that he never raced as a 2-year-old. That hurt him from the start because a majestic piece of work named Secretariat was begat the same year he was. As 3-year-olds they met only once, in the Kentucky Derby, when Forego slammed into the rail entering the stretch and finished fourth. Five weeks later Forego won an allowance race at Belmont by nine lengths—the largest margin of his career. Penny Tweedy, Secretariat's owner, was at the track and was one of the first to congratulate Mrs. Gerry. "What a terrific race," Mrs. Tweedy said. "What a fine horse." Thirty minutes later Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years by winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. The reverberations of Forego's fine win traveled approximately 300 yards—or as far as the back-stretch at Belmont.

Since that afternoon Forego has run 30 races, won 19 of them and earned $1.1 million. But his sense of timing has been consistently dismal. On Nov. 25, 1973 he ran in the Roamer Handicap at Aqueduct, and galloped home first by five lengths. The man who presented the trophy in the winner's circle that day was Trainer Hollie Hughes. "This horse," said Hughes, "is a better horse than Roamer." People listen to Mr. Hughes because he has seen a horse or two in his 87 years, 71 of them around racetracks. Roamer, Find, Armed, Exterminator and Kelso are generally considered the finest geldings ever to race and when Hughes compared a first-time stakes winner to Roamer it should have meant something. But that same afternoon, Ohio State and Michigan played to a tie, which forced a dramatic and controversial vote to determine which of the two teams would go to the Rose Bowl. The result of that dispute was that you had to look for news of Forego's Roamer victory in the recesses of the Sunday papers.

Consider these other moments in Forego's career. He won the 1974 Widener Handicap the same day that UCLA got bumped from the NCAA basketball finals for the first time in eight years; the Carter 10 minutes before long shot Little Current won the Preakness; his first Woodward on a day Nolan Ryan pitched a no-hitter; the Jockey Club Gold Cup on the November afternoon when Michigan State beat Ohio State in one of college football's biggest upsets.

This year only names and events were changed. Forego won the Seminole Handicap while most of the rest of the country was absorbed in the upcoming Jimmy Connors-Rod Laver duel in Las Vegas. His second Carter win was shadowed when, that same day, Master Derby knocked Foolish Pleasure off in the Preakness. Billie Jean King's win at Wimbledon took Forego's Brooklyn headlines away and in any case even the racing world was looking beyond the Brooklyn. That Sunday Ruffian was in a match race against Foolish Pleasure.

Forego should be hard to overlook. He stands a quarter of an inch under 17 hands, which makes him roughly equivalent to an eight-foot basketball player. Because of his size and two bad legs, he must be trained very carefully. Like a tall man walking on ice, he seems fearful of mud. Ever since the 1973 Roamer he has had to give away weight—more than 1,650 pounds altogether in handicap races, an average of 90 pounds an outing.

Winning the Woodward often can be the deciding factor in picking the Horse of the Year. During the last 16 years nine Woodward winners have become HOTY. The race is run under weight-forage conditions in which older horses such as Forego carry 126 pounds to 119 for 3-year-olds. It is one of two major fall races using that method of handicapping, the other being the Jockey Club Gold Cup at two miles. Forego has run in two Woodwards and one Jockey Club Gold Cup—and is three for three.

Horse of the Year awards have been around since 1936, but only Challedon, Secretariat and Whirlaway have won two in a row. Kelso won five in a row, from 1960 to '64. The Horse of the Year Award is called the Eclipse Award, after the magnificent chestnut who was foaled on the day of the "Great Eclipse" in 1764. Eclipse went to the racetrack 18 times and beat his rivals hollow in 10 races. Because no owners wanted to enter horses against him, in the other eight he won by simply walking the course. Ninety percent of today's thoroughbreds trace back to him in their male lines.

The Woodward victory could ensure the Eclipse for Forego, because for the first time in his life he showed he could "ding-dong" it—staying with the leaders, Belmont winner Avatar and Wajima, from the start. Forego went by Wajima at the 16th pole and won by a length and three-quarters. What will he do now? Rest up for the Gold Cup on Oct. 25, eat sliced apples and pears, and wait for big sports events to start scheduling themselves around him.