Father Time, not another horse, this year kept John Henry from possibly winning the Budweiser-Arlington Million for the third time. The 10-year-old gelding is going to be flown today from California to Lexington, Ky., where he'll spend his retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park.
But while John Henry didn't win the fifth running of the Million, "The English John Henry" did. That's what they call Teleprompter across the briny, and on Sunday at Arlington Park, before 35,651 fans in a setting that more resembled a country fair than a race track, the 5-year-old English-bred gelding grabbed an early lead and then held off a charge through the stretch by favored Greinton to score a three-quarter-length victory.
So, for the second time, a foreign horse won the Million, and although Sunday's outcome doesn't compare with the Irish-bred Tolomeo's upset at 38-to-1 odds in 1983, it was still a shocker. Never having won at the Million distance of 1 miles, Teleprompter was given the least chance among the three English entries and went off at 14-1.
Running on a yielding course that had been softened by early weekend rains, Teleprompter paid $30.40, $11.20 and $6.60 while being timed in 2:03 2/5, well off the 1:58 4/5 record for the Million that Perrault set in 1982.
Greinton, who might have won with better racing luck, was the 9-5 favorite with stablemate Dahar and paid $3.40 and $2.80. Flying Pidgeon, longest price on the board at 31-1 and the only East Coast entrant among the 10 American starters, finished third, 3 1/2 lengths behind Greinton, and paid $12.40. After the first three, the order of finish was King of Clubs, The Noble Player, Al Mamoon, Tsunami Slew, Both Ends Burning, Dahar, Gate Dancer, Drumalis, Free Guest and Kings Island.
If the Million had been run in England, Teleprompter wouldn't have even been eligible. The English don't allow castrated horses to run in major races, because their wins would do nothing for their stud value. Consequently, Teleprompter's form was difficult to analyze, because he had seldom run against Europe's best horses.
Going into the Million, Teleprompter had made four starts this year, with an eighth, two seconds and a first at 1 1/8 miles in the Pacemaker International at Ireland's Phoenix Park. That was the second straight time he had won the Pacemaker. Lifetime before Sunday, Teleprompter had nine wins and was in the money in 17 out of 21 starts. His $600,000 share of the Million purse dwarfed his previous lifetime earnings of $185,000.
The win was the biggest in the career of 33-year-old English jockey Tony Ives, though certainly not the largest for owner Lord Derby and his family. The Derby, first run in England in 1787, is named after the Derby family, and the Lord's forbearers have won it four times.
Late Sunday, Lord Derby discussed his horse's trip to America, standing outside one of 40 tents that had been erected for the race after the Arlington clubhouse and grandstand were destroyed by a three-day fire that started on July 31.
"My trainer (Bill Watts) pushed me to come here with my horse," Derby said. "He had more confidence in the horse than I did. And my wife also wanted to come. So I had no choice, really."
Watts felt that the turns on an American track, which are much sharper than on Europe's elongated courses, might help Teleprompter relax and enable him to carry his speed. The opinion was shared by Ives, who had been doubtful until Friday as the horse's rider because of a spill last Monday at Windsor, England, in which he was knocked unconscious for about a minute.
"When that happens, normally you are suspended for seven days because of medical reasons," Ives said. "But I was only suspended for two. Then I failed a physical examination on Wednesday, but got another chance Friday. I passed that one and got on a plane that got me here Friday night."
Teleprompter, a son of Welsh Pageant out of the mare Ouija, is the biggest horse Ives has ever ridden, standing 16.3 hands (67 inches). He broke slowly from the inside post position, but took the lead from Tsunami Slew and Drumalis as the field swept under the finish line for the first time.
"He was running easily once he got the lead," Ives said. "The turns tended to give him a couple of breathers. At the end, I heard Greinton coming from behind me, but I wasn't sure how quickly."
Not quickly enough, though trainer Charlie Whittingham, who won the Million with Perrault, thought a better trip would have given his horse the win.
"He had all kinds of trouble," Whittingham said. "He got stuck down on the rail and then he had to come wide on the turn. He was flying down the stretch, but he needed more ground to catch the winner. If the race had been from here-to-the-wall longer, we would have got him."
Laffit Pincay, riding Greinton, had to check slightly at the three-quarter pole.
"I thought the inside would open up, but it didn't and I had to go around," Pincay said. "The lead horse didn't stop like I thought he would. Going wide might have cost me the race."
In Greinton's last start on July 22, with a $1 million bonus on the line in the Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park, Pincay also had a wide trip and they lost by a head to Kings Island.
Flying Pidgeon was another horse who had early traffic trouble Sunday, but jockey Jose Santos found room on the rail to account for his third-place finish. Al Mamoon, like Greinton, circled the field on the last turn before finishing sixth.
"Going around the turn, I felt like I was going to win," said Sandy Hawley, riding Al Mamoon. "But the horse flattened out in the last 70 yards."
Coming off the track, Hawley complained to his trainer, Bobby Frankel, about the time the horses were kept in the walking ring prior to the race, whose post time was determined by a national NBC telecast.
"The horses must have walked around in the paddock for a half an hour," Hawley said. "That didn't help."
Teleprompter will be sent home for a race in England in late September, then is likely to return to the United States for one of the Breeders' Cup races--at a distance of a mile--at Aqueduct on Nov. 2.
"This horse has now won in four countries," Lord Derby said. "He is to me what John Henry is to your country. He has tremendous courage and loves his racing."
The Breeders' Cup Mile is also a $1 million race. Unlike England, geldings are allowed to apply, and even someone like Lord Derby appreciates the money. Even if it's only a way of keeping score.