If Eclipse Awards voters were required to fill out their ballots for this year's champion 3-year-old colt today, many of them would be tempted to leave the line blank.
Fortunately, the electorate has until December to make up its mind, but even that might not be enough time. Each additional race adds to the confusion.
Ogygian, who had been turgidly hailed as another Secretariat by some segments of the Eastern press, even though he missed the Triple Crown and didn't even run in the Travers at Saratoga, flopped in last week's Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands, running third as the 2-5 favorite.
That result pleased trainer Phil Gleaves for two reasons: (1) the Pegasus was won by Danzig Connection, who is trained by Woody Stephens, Gleaves' former boss; and (2) with Ogygian's bubble burst, Wise Times, who is trained by Gleaves, probably will have one less horse to worry about in the 3-year-old vote.
Wise Times was also not a factor in the Triple Crown--he ran ninth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes--but he has become the colt of summer with wins in the Haskell at Monmouth Park and the Travers at Saratoga.
Gleaves will be asking a lot of Wise Times in the remaining months, running him Saturday in the $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, with possible starts after that in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 4 and in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
But there is a lot of money and even more prestige on the line in these three races. It is the kind of year where a 3-year-old could not only clinch divisional honors by beating older horses in the Breeders' Cup, but he could win Horse of the Year as well.
In Saturday's Super Derby, Wise Times is facing six horses of seemingly lesser quality. This makes it the type of race where Gleaves' colt has more to lose than gain--similar to Ogygian's appearance at the Meadowlands, Wise Times' stock would drop considerably if he gets beat.
The others in the Super Derby are Buffalo Beau, Cheapskate, Southern Halo, Good Command, Rad and Slyly Gifted. None of these horses has won a major race for 3-year-olds. Cheapskate left California for easier competition earlier this year and Southern Halo, who will be ridden by Bill Shoemaker Saturday, has been unsuccessful in stakes company on the West Coast.
Wise Times will be ridden Saturday by Eddie Maple because Jerry Bailey, who had the winning ride in the Travers, is committed to ride favored Manila in the $600,000 Turf Classic the same day at Belmont.
In the six years the Super Derby has been run, Maple has won it twice, with Temperence Hill in 1980 and Creme Fraiche last year. If Maple scores with Wise Times, he would catch up with Laffit Pincay in Super Derby wins. Pincay doesn't have a mount in this year's race.
Despite Manila's four straight wins, including a 9 1/2-length victory in the Ballantine's Scotch Classic at the Meadowlands, a large field is expected to face him Saturday in the Turf Classic.
Trainer Charlie Whittingham thinks that it's such an open race that he's shipped Prince True all the way to New York to run, at a supplementary fee of $30,000.
Prince True, after winning the San Luis Rey Stakes and the San Juan Invitational Handicap in 1985 at Santa Anita, looked as though he was going to be one of the year's stars, but he was injured at Del Mar in early summer and didn't return to the races until this July at Hollywood Park.
In three starts this year, Prince True has been no better than third, finishing last in the Eddie Read Handicap and sixth in the Del Mar Handicap in his last two starts.
But if Whittingham thinks Prince True has a chance Saturday, he'll get no arguments from the horse's owners, Elizabeth and Howard Keck. It was their Ferdinand that Whittingham saddled to win this year's Kentucky Derby.
Jock Jocoy, one of the veterinarians at Del Mar this year, says there were no racing breakdowns that resulted in horses being destroyed during the track's just-concluded 43-day season.
"In 33 years, I can't ever recall attending a race meeting when this has happened," Jocoy said.
Jocoy feels that this year's record was due to a reaction from the 1985 Del Mar season, in which numerous horses went down, causing several serious jockey injuries.
This summer, Jocoy and an enlarged staff began a daily examination at 5:30 a.m. of every horse entered in that afternoon's races. The check was usually finished by 7 a.m. and Jocoy's staff kept medical cards on all horses and also interviewed jockeys if it appeared that any horses didn't run to form and may have been hurting.
"We probably had more horses scratched than we did before, and there a lot of bellyaching about that," Jocoy said. "But it was a better deal for the bettors, a safer situation for the riders and horses weren't asked to perform if they didn't seem to be up to it."
Del Mar, with its more leisurely pace than Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, seems to lend itself more to storytelling. One of the best yarns making the rounds at the seaside track this summer was about Eddie Arcaro.
When Arcaro was riding in New York in his heyday, probably in the 1950s, he rode both ends of the daily double three times in the same week. Arcaro had friends bet the horses for him and the star jockey reportedly collected $250,000 on a parlay.
Not wanting to tell his wife about the windfall, Arcaro put the money in a shoe box in the attic of the Brooklyn home where they were living.
One night, Arcaro awoke in a start to some noise coming from the attic.
"What's that?" he asked his wife.
"Oh, it's probably just squirrels," she said. "They rummage around up there sometimes. They wind up chewing on some of the boxes."
Arcaro flew from the bed. By the time he reached the $250,000 in the shoe box, the squirrels had scurried away and there was no damage to the money.
Now, of course, his wife knew about the money.
"I was going to give you half of it," he told her, and he did.
As for the other half, Arcaro had been approached several weeks before by some producers who wanted him to invest in a Broadway show. Since he had the money in hand, he gave it to the Broadway promoters later in the week. The show flopped and Arcaro lost his investment.
Racing Notes Chris McCarron, who broke his shoulder blade in a spill at Del Mar on Sept. 6, told the Daily Racing Form that he expected to be back riding for the opener of the Oak Tree season at Santa Anita on Oct. 1. . . . McCarron has been given a breeding share in Turkoman, the horse he chose to ride over Precisionist in last Saturday's Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park. Because of the injury, Gary Stevens replaced McCarron and rode Turkoman to victory. . . . The Hollywood Park stakes program for its fall season includes these major races: the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 16, the Matriarch on Nov. 23, the Hollywood Starlet on Nov. 30, the Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 7 and the $1 million Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 14. The 37-day season opens on Nov. 5 and runs through Dec. 24.