Graustark is generally considered to be one of the best horses that never made it to the Kentucky Derby. In 1966, nine days before the Derby, Graustark broke down in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, still finished second in a heroic performance, but never raced again.
On Saturday at Gulfstream Park, a 3-year-old son of Graustark named Proud Truth won the $300,000 Florida Derby by a neck over Irish Sur, stamping himself as one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby two months from now.
"This colt looks like Graustark, now he's starting to run like him," Dan Galbreath said. John Galbreath, Dan's 87-year-old father, who looks quite spry despite suffering a heart attack last year, races Proud Truth in the name of Darby Dan Farm.
It took Proud Truth most of the 1 1/8 miles of the Florida Derby to find his best foot, but from just past the eighth pole to the wire there was little doubt about the outcome. Banner Bob, the leader after six furlongs, faded to fourth. Covert Operation, second behind Banner Bob going into the lane, got squeezed by Proud Truth and Irish Sur in the stretch, but appeared to be finished, anyway, and wound up fifth.
The disappointment before 32,609 fans in 80-degree sunshine was Stephan's Odyssey, who was sent off as the even-money favorite. Winner of the Hollywood Futurity last year and second by only a neck to Proud Truth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes Feb. 18, Stephan's Odyssey had good position throughout Saturday's race but lacked a closing kick and finished sixth in the 11-horse field.
Proud Truth, timed in 1:50, which was more than three seconds slower than the track record, paid $6, $4.40 and $3.80 as the second choice. Irish Sur, finishing a length ahead of Do It Again Dan, returned $6.20 and $4.60. Do It Again Dan paid $6.40.
The rest of the order of finish was Banner Bob, Covert Operation, Stephan's Odyssey, Silver Rich, Attribute, Avey's Brother, Mighty Appealing and Popops Choice.
John Veitch, the Galbreath family trainer, will run Dan Galbreath's Script Ohio, another top 3-year-old, in a race here Monday. Meanwhile, Proud Truth, who's had all six of his lifetime starts--five of them wins--crammed into the last three months, will get a rest, probably returning in the Flamingo Stakes March 30 at Hialeah.
"I was concerned about Stephan's Odyssey," Veitch said after the race, "but I thought we had the best horse, and we proved it. This one's gonna get better, too."
The bettors must have thought that Proud Truth's 10-pound weight advantage, not his ability, had much to do with the result of the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth. They favored Stephan's Odyssey Saturday because he was running at equal weights with Proud Truth, 122 pounds apiece.
"It's a paradox," Veitch said, "but I thought the extra sixteenth of a mile would compensate for my horse's 10-pound loss in the weights. He had the character and the ability to overcome the fact that they were running so slow at the start."
The fractions were :47 3/5 for the half-mile, when Mighty Appealing held the lead, and 1:37 after a mile. Jockey Jorge Velasquez maneuvered Proud Truth between horses on the far turn, then brought him from the rail to the outside midway through the stretch. There was light contact with Covert Operation.
"My horse was jumping up and down and didn't get moving until the eighth pole," Velasquez said. "I started hitting him from the half-mile pole on to get him going. He was stronger today than in his other races. He's constantly improving."
Jockey Eddie Maple, who's never won the Kentucky Derby, was disappointed with the way Stephan's Odyssey ran Saturday.
"The time stinks, everything stinks," Maple said. "We were in a good spot. I got clear going into the turn, but then my horse had nothing left. He was finished by the eighth pole. That's pretty early."
Particularly if a colt is being groomed to run even farther in the 1-mile Kentucky Derby. Saturday was the end to a miserable week for Woody Stephens, who had his Mercedes stolen from his winter Florida home the other day and then saw another of his 3-year-olds, Creme Fraiche, finish second to Chief's Crown in the Swale Stakes that immediately preceded the Florida Derby.
"We put Stephan's Odyssey up close today because he had the No. 1 post position," Stephens said. "His good races have been from off the pace, but maybe that had nothing to do with it today. He wants to run from behind, I think, because that's the way he won in California and closed so strongly in the Fountain of Youth."
The win for Proud Truth was worth $180,000, which was $35,000 more than he won in his other five races.
"This horse looks like a rich man's horse," Veitch had said at his Hialeah barn early last week. "He's got a lot of class about him."
A history major in college, Veitch talked about the Civil War and made a capsule commentary on the soldiers for the South: "They were short on everything but guts."
He might just as well have been talking about Proud Truth, who needs only half of his daddy's courage to be a factor May 4 at Churchill Downs.