Seventy-six-year-old Bayard Sharp and his grandson, Bill Farish Jr., 25, stood in the Florida sunshine in the winner's circle at Gulfstream Park and smiled for the cameras. Together they held up the trophy won moments before when their 3-year-old colt, Dixieland Brass, came from behind to win the $130,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes and stamp himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. "I've been in the game for 48 years," said Sharp. "And the fun thing is, this may be my last good horse and my grandson's first good horse."
It all seemed fitting. Back in the spring of 1983, a Sharp-bred horse named Dixieland Band appeared to be on his way to the Kentucky Derby. But when the colt finished fifth in his final prep, the Derby Trial, it was decided that he wasn't ready for the big one. The horse went on to modest success, and when he was syndicated, in 1985, Sharp kept most of the shares himself and sent Dixieland Band to stand at Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky., which is owned by his son-in-law, Will Farish.
In September 1987, Sharp and Bill Jr., Will's son, went to the fall yearling sales at Keeneland specifically to buy a colt by Dixieland Band. "We looked at a bunch of them," said Bill Jr., "and Dixieland Brass was the one we liked best. We picked him out together." And they paid for him together, 50-50, $30,000 each. That $60,000 investment has now earned $175,290. "The odds against coming up with something like him—" said Bill Jr., shaking his head. "Everyone in the business knows how tough it is. I'm overwhelmed by having the first horse I've owned do this. He's more than we could have ever hoped for."
And hope, of course, is what February in Florida is all about. The 1[1/16]-mile Fountain of Youth is an unofficial coming-out party for 3-year-olds each winter. But while 13 hopefuls went to the gate Saturday, the hottest prospect of them all stood in his stall at Gulfstream's Barn 14 and munched oats. Easy Goer is the heavy early favorite for the Kentucky Derby and is not slated to run until March 4; the other horses are scrambling to see who among them might run with him in Louisville.
When the gates crashed open at 4:40 p.m., Mercedes Won went straight to the lead with Dixieland Brass, the 6-5 betting favorite, tucked back in fifth amid heavy traffic. Randy Romero, aboard Dixieland Brass, moved to the outside in the turn for home. Coming into the stretch, he was five wide and moving steadily when jockey Marco Castaneda, on Reaffirming, reached back to whip his horse and inadvertently cracked Dixieland Brass across the face. Dixie ducked his head, hesitated, and then came on again, catching Mercedes Won at the 16th pole and charging past to win by 1¼ lengths. Romero was ecstatic. "He's the Derby horse I've been looking for," he said.
The same might be said by the horse's 65-year-old trainer, Charlie Peoples, who has worked for Sharp for 45 years but has never made a successful run for the roses. A full moon hung over Miami Saturday night as Peoples sat outside Barn 3, watching his star colt being cooled out under the shedrows. No, the trainer hadn't gone up to the Director's Room to drink champagne. He had come right back to the barn after the race. Would he celebrate later? "Well," Peoples said, "I might have a scotch on the rocks when I get home. I'll go to bed early, get up at 4:30 a.m. and I'll be out here at 5:30, the good Lord willing."
At that moment, a black limo and two other cars pulled up at the barn and disgorged a party of Sharps, Farishes and friends. One of the women grabbed Peoples by the arm and tried to get him to jitterbug in celebration. Peoples took a few cautious dance steps but stopped. "We'll dance to a Dixieland band," he said, "if we win the Kentucky Derby."
After Saturday's win, Romero and Dixieland Brass have an eye on the Kentucky Derby.