At 4:47 last Saturday afternoon, in the third floor Turf Club at Gulfstream Park, Arthur Klein rushed through a crowd of people reaching to slap him on the back and bolted into a waiting elevator. Breathing rapidly, perspiration pouring down his chalky-white face, Klein, a 50-year-old electrical contractor from New York City, appeared to be teetering on the brink of nervous collapse.
Klein closed his eyes and caught his breath as the elevator bore him to the first floor. "Oh, my God!" he said quietly. "Did you see that? He was more than 25 to 1! I couldn't believe my eyes...."
Indeed, just a minute earlier Klein and most of the other 24,170 witnesses at Gulfstream had watched in disbelief as Klein's iron-gray roan, Bull Inthe Heather, came charging between horses on the final turn, drove to the lead with about 250 yards to run and bounded off to a two-length victory over favored Storm Tower in the $500,000, 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ-mile Florida Derby. Sent off at 29-1, Bull, the son of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the 42-year history of the Florida Derby. Exiting the elevator on the first floor, Klein and his girlfriend, Gale Costello, darted through the crowd as if cops were in hot pursuit: They zigzagged past the mutuel machines, onto the clubhouse apron, around the lawn chairs and over to the gate of the low Cyclone fence that keeps the crowd out of the area around the winner's circle.
Klein pushed and pulled at the gate, only to find that it was held shut by a length of rope wrapped tight around the gate and an adjoining pole. "Ohhhhh!" he groaned. He had paid $130,000 for the colt as a yearling at Saratoga in 1991; had stood in front of Bull's stall that very morning and repeatedly chanted a hypnotic mantra, "Lie down and go to sleep, lie down and go to sleep," trying to get the horse to relax and take a nap, which he finally did; and now, in his moment of triumph, he found himself kept out of the winner's circle by a length of rope. Reaching into the pocket of his suit jacket, Klein pulled out a switchblade—"I'm from New York City," he would later explain—deftly pressed the button that opened the blade and proceeded to saw through the rope. In the long history of thoroughbred racing, Klein is surely the first owner who had to break into a winner's circle to join his own party.
"Beautiful!" he cried, as he swept through the gate toward his trainer, Howard Tesher, who had entered the circle from the grandstand side. "Oh, my God, that was beautiful...."
The Florida Derby was a fitting climax to a series of Kentucky Derby preps at Gulfstream in which the 3-year-olds were so uniformly modest in talent that the series turned out to be little more than a bunch of allowance races dressed up in the money and lights of graded events, with purple orchids thrown in for the Florida Derby. "They'll time this race with a sundial," trainer LeRoy Jolley said the night before the run for the orchids.
At least eight of the 13 horses entered in the race appeared capable of winning, and it was a measure of Tesher's confidence in his colt—and his reading of the quality of the rest of the field—that he urged friends and neighbors back home in Turnberry, Fla., to bet on Bull. "Pull for me," Tesher told anyone who would listen. "I'm going to win the Florida Derby."
Coming to the race, Bull Inthe Heather had won only one of six races, but in his last start, a division of the 1[1/16]-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 27, he had finished a fast-closing second, beaten by 2¼ lengths. In doing so, Bull showed that he belonged with the best of the 3-year-old colts in Florida.
Klein first saw Bull in the stable area at that Saratoga sale two summers ago when he was shopping for yearlings with Costello. He knew right off that he had to have the roan colt. "A great shoulder, a nice sense of presence and a wide-awake eye," says Klein. "He said, 'Buy me! I can beat anyone in the world.' "
Fifteen minutes before post time on Saturday, Tesher lifted Wigberto Ramos aboard Bull and watched as horse and rider circled the paddock. "He should run good," Tesher said. "Look at him. He reminds me of Shaquille O'Neal. He loves what he's doing. Today he's just got to get lucky and find the right path."
Bull Inthe Heather and Ramos found the path they needed at the turn for home. The rail was the place to be, and Ramos let Bull settle into 10th, saving ground on the fence in the run around the first bend. Bull continued to advance, and as he came to the quarter pole, the two horses racing in front of him, Great Navigator and Storm Tower, magically parted, giving Ramos the path he had been waiting for. "It opened just at the right time," Ramos said. "When he saw the hole, Bull went for it—boom!"
It took Bull 1:51[1/5] to tour the grounds, sundial time for nine furlongs on the sloppy track, but he emerged from the race with a ticket to the Kentucky Derby on May 1. Tesher has no idea where Bull will have his final Derby prep. But he senses that the roan is rising and ready for the road to Louisville. He knows, too, that he could not have asked for a better year to have a colt who likes to run. No dominant 3-year-old has surfaced at any of the venues in the U.S. "You don't have any stick-outs," says Tesher. "And this is one horse who's really on the improve. He is getting better all the time."
Klein has owned and raced horses for five years but has never had one like Bull before. Two hours after the race, grooms and stable workers at Barn 19 were wearing yellow T-shirts with green lettering that announced: BULL INTHE DERBY. Klein was offering the crew orchids from the wreath he received in the winner's circle. He had just won one derby in Florida and was now daring to contemplate another in Kentucky. "What a thrill!" he said. "What a dream...."
Ramos brandished his whip as Bull roared by Storm Tower (blue shadow roll) in the stretch.