The sun may shine bright on that old Kentucky home three weeks hence, but after Honest Pleasure's breeze in last Saturday's Florida Derby, it is not likely to shine on very many competing horses. In winning his sixth straight stakes race Honest Pleasure turned Gulfstream Park's showcase event into little more than a profitable canter, worth $91,440 of the $152,400 purse to his owner, Bert Firestone.
Last month Honest Pleasure won the Flamingo by 11 lengths and paid $2.60. This time he won by an easy three lengths and paid $2.10—the lowest win payoff in the 51-year history of racing in Florida. Honest Pleasure ran the 1‚⅛ miles in 1:47⅘ a second slower than when he routed a field of seven in the Flamingo, but this race was only a workout, a jaunt in front of a field of five opponents. Still, it was a more important race than the Flamingo, because it was used to determine if the headstrong colt could be rated. The provisional verdict: yes, it is possible. So, too, is a Triple Crown.
After the race his jockey, Braulio Baeza, said Honest Pleasure "hasn't run up to his capacity, not yet. He ranks with the top 3-year-olds I have ever ridden, if not above them." And Baeza is a man who does not go overboard for a horse, particularly a 3-year-old.
At noon the next day Honest Pleasure was shipped to Lexington to await the $100,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keene-land, his last race before the Derby. If his streak continues he will go to Louisville as the hottest favorite since Native Dancer. The betting on Honest Pleasure in the Florida Derby was fascinating, an example of how the public reacts to a horse if they believe it to be genuine. Listed at 2 to 5 in the morning line, Honest Pleasure went down to 1 to 9 on the first tote board flash and never budged (actually he was 1 to 20; the tote board can show no lower odds than 1 to 9). Of the $283,299 bet, $201,797 was on him. The win pool showed $130,304 on Honest Pleasure, an average of $5,345 on the other starters. Gulfstream's mutuel department had to double-man the $100 and $50 win windows to keep up with the action, each seller being given a deputy to count money as he punched out tickets. That is the kind of respect only horses like Secretariat are supposed to get. Before the race, Trainer LeRoy Jolley said, "Sure, Honest Pleasure won the Flamingo by 11 lengths, and if he doesn't win the Florida Derby by at least that much some people will say he isn't what he's cracked up to be. Well, horses don't win many races by 11 lengths. The Flamingo was an exceptional performance by Honest Pleasure. But I certainly don't think he will win this one by 11. I also don't think he will lose it."
On race morning H. A. (Jimmy) Jones, a man who had his hand in five Kentucky Derby victories with Calumet Farm, stood near the rail at nearby Hialeah watching sets of horses passing by in workouts. "When we had the big horses—Citation, Coaltown, Ponder, Gen. Duke, Mark-Ye-Well—they never won by 11 lengths," said Jones, "and I don't think Honest Pleasure will win the Florida by 11 lengths. Our horses never won by that much if we could help it. Honest Pleasure is a tremendous racehorse, but today will probably be one of those days when he isn't asked to extend himself. Jolley will probably experiment with him to get the horse ready for the Kentucky Derby, but I would be shocked if he got beat.
"Nothing really matters until the first Saturday in May. If he wins again today, Lord knows who else will be strong enough to be in the Kentucky Derby against him."
Honest Pleasure went to the front at the start and, indeed, skipped along as he pleased, Baeza spending most of the trip looking back to find his opposition. Proud Birdie, the second choice in the betting, ran close most of the way but never got within two lengths of the winner. In the stretch Birdie said bye-bye and a 30-to-1 shot named Great Contractor came on to finish second.
Up North, Zen was a hard-driving winner of the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, to remain undefeated in five starts. But he will not have people parading in downtown Louisville. He ran rank at times and did not look like a horse capable of challenging Honest Pleasure. Out at Oaklawn Park, Elocutionist won the $135,800 Arkansas Derby by 2½ lengths and probably earned a trip to Churchill Downs. On the West Coast, An Act and Telly's Pop have been beating one another up, and in New York Bold Forbes stands in the wings. But at present none is the equal of Honest Pleasure. He makes his opposition look like just a bunch of horses.
Under a snug hand ride Honest Pleasure flies down the homestretch ahead of a faltering Proud Birdie and finishes unchallenged.
In the winner's circle Jockey Braulio Baeza, seconded by Owner Bert Firestone and his wife, gives his mount a fond pat on the mane.