When it comes to risky investments, thoroughbred race horses rank right there with buying watches from a guy on a street corner, oil wells from a guy wearing an earring or stock from a guy with no last name.
These creatures are more fragile than crystal.
Just look at them. They have massive chests and powerful hips, but legs like a sandpiper’s. Imagine Twiggy’s legs and Larry Holmes’ torso and you have a thoroughbred’s configuration.
On these legs, thoroughbreds carrying approximately 120 pounds of leather, silk and human gallop in thundering packs for upwards of three-quarters of a mile. It’s like running Indy cars on bicycle tires or putting balsa wings on a 727.
And of all the thoroughbreds, the most fragile are the 2-year-olds.
“They’re babies,” said Ken Church, a former jockey who works for the thoroughbred club. “You have to let them develop before you make them do a man’s work.”
For many of these babies, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is what might be called either a nursery school or kindergarten or both. This is where they first experience the confinement of the starting gate, the congestion of the start and the confusion of sounds and fury so alien to those quiet days in barn or pasture.
It is the perfect season for the 2-year-olds, late in the summer or early in the fall.
Thus, it is at Del Mar that many 2-year-olds get their first taste of victory and/or frustration.
In the case of a colt named Swear, it has been both.
Swear, to be sure, earned his first victory at Hollywood Park, a seven-length romp in a maiden race. However, such things happen in maiden races, so this colt would need a stiffer test.
In an allowance race at Del Mar, Swear was once again the winner by seven lengths.
By now, the betting public had taken notice. When he made his stakes debut in only the third start of his career, he went off at odds of 50 to the $1. Obviously intimidated, he won by a mere 6 1/2 lengths in the Balboa Stakes.
A star was being born.
This kid has everything. He is handsome (as horses go) and as naturally talented as any athlete can get. He even has that catchy, though hardly majestic, name.
Eddie Delahoussaye, his jockey, was relaxing between races in the lounge above the locker room when I caught up with him the other day.
Earlier, Church had said “any jock in the room” would like to have the mount aboard Swear, and Delahoussaye was the guy.
“The first time I worked him out,” Delahoussaye said, “I fell in love.”
Delahoussaye had gotten that workout for a couple of reasons. First of all, he is a veteran jockey who has taken Sunny’s Halo and Gato del Sol to wins in the Kentucky Derby. The second reason, which probably comes under the heading “racing luck,” was the fact that Delahoussaye happened to be visiting trainer Chuck Marikian’s barn at Santa Anita early one morning.
Marikian does not train Swear, but Willard Proctor does. Proctor’s barn was next door.
“I think I’ve got a nice colt,” Proctor said. “Would you like to work him for me?”
Proctor, a taciturn type, did not elaborate. Delahoussaye accepted what amounted to a test drive.
After the ride, Delahoussaye told Proctor: “Unless he’s fooled me, he can run.”
Swear now has those three races behind him, and a herd of horses behind him. Delahoussaye insists he has never been headed, though the chart for the Balboa Stakes indicated he trailed by a head after a half mile. Delahoussaye shrugged as if to say, “Ain’t no money paid after half-a-mile.”
Being one whose only horseback experiences have been on swayback mares incapable of trotting, I was curious what it was like atop such a steed.
“His stride’s so smooth you don’t really feel like you’re moving,” Delahoussaye said. “You wouldn’t believe it. It’s like driving a luxury car. You want to go, he goes. You want to slow down, he slows down.”
I was almost tempted to ask if Swear was equipped with a tape deck, wet bar and $637 ash tray.
“On the track,” Delahoussaye continued, “he’s an athlete. He’s got the kind of style all the good ones have.”
The question, of course, is how good. It does not answer easily, and Delahoussaye is reluctant to try. Next spring’s Triple Crown races are so far away.
“It would be great to be riding him next spring,” Delahoussaye said, warily. “I just hope he stays healthy and it works out that way.”
After all, these are the most fragile of masterpieces. Handle them with care and they can still break, like fine china crumbling in satin gloves.
It was disconcerting this week, in fact, to learn that Swear is out for an estimated two months because he has suffered bruised cartilage in his right foreleg.
My first reaction was to be concerned that Swear’s career would be written in one short chapter, another youngster finished almost before he began. Recent history has given us the sad stories of Roving Boy, Landaluce and Saratoga Six.
However, this could well be a good break for the colt, though a bad one for those who would like to have seen him in next Wednesday’s Del Mar Futurity. The enforced lay-off will allow him a bit more time to grow and mature, and maybe give him a better chance against the opponent who defeated the likes of Landaluce and Saratoga Six.
Swear may be odds-on favorite against anything on four legs, but history tells us champion 2-year-olds are 50-1 underdogs against that one opponent they cannot see--fate.