In 1976, Phil Hauswald was the most valuable player on a high school football team in New Albany, Ind., which is just across the Ohio River from here.
"I was never off the field," Hauswald said. "I was an offensive tackle, a defensive tackle, and I did all the kicking. But I was real slow and only a couple of small colleges acted like they were interested in me. I was the best of a bad bunch."
The team won three games, which is as many races as Demons Begone has won for trainer Phil Hauswald this year. The difference is that Demons Begone hasn't lost any as a 3-year-old, and although he may also be the best of a bad bunch-- ordinary seems to be the operative word for this year's crop --the Elocutionist-Rowdy Angel colt will probably go off a lukewarm favorite in the 113th Kentucky Derby a week from today at Churchill Downs.
Should Demons Begone get the 28-year-old Hauswald to the winner's circle, the bushy haired, mustachioed bachelor would become one of the youngest trainers to win the race, either in age or experience.
Hauswald has been working around Midwestern race tracks since he was 19, but he didn't take out a trainer's license until December of 1985. Charlie Whittingham, who trains Temperate Sil, winner of the Santa Anita Derby and another of the favorites in this year's wide-open Kentucky Derby, started his first horse in the Kentucky Derby in 1958, about seven months before Hauswald was born.
Hauswald has already started a horse in the Derby. His Bachelor Beau ran 14th, ahead of just two horses, last year. But Bachelor Beau was a 60-1 shot. Demons Begone will be about 2-1.
"I'll have to be awful nervous," said Hauswald, who confessed that he was as nervous as he's ever been when Demons Begone ran his first race of the year in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., in early March.
Demons Begone hadn't started in more than four months after running sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last November. Early this year, Hauswald had planned a Florida campaign for the colt, but the four times he entered the colt there, he scared off the opposition and the races were canceled.
The same thing happened twice at Oaklawn. And although he had trained Demons Begone hard, it still wasn't the same as running him in a race.
If the trainer was nervous, the heebie-jeebies didn't carry over to the horse. In the one-mile Southwest, Demons Begone and jockey Pat Day spurted from seventh place to the lead in the far turn and rolled to an eight-length victory that was punctuated by a final time of 1:34 3/5 and a final quarter of :23 1/5.
Two equally easy wins followed at Oaklawn, in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel and the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby.
Officials at Oaklawn Park may also be nervous Derby Day, since they've offered a $1-million bonus which Demons Begone could earn as the result of winning the last two races in Arkansas and the Derby.
Still, all next week the skeptics will refer to Demons Begone as "an Arkansas horse," a rap that lingers even though Sunny's Halo won the Kentucky Derby in 1983 after winning the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby in his only preps.
None of the horses that ran behind Demons Begone in his three Oaklawn races have been deemed capable enough by their trainers to run in the Kentucky Derby, and last year, when Demons Begone raced in New York, he was competitive, but unable to beat Gulch and Polish Navy. Capote, Alysheba, Bet Twice and Gulch--all Derby starters--finished ahead of Demons Begone in the Breeders' Cup.
"He was an immature horse last year," Hauswald said. "In the Breeders' Cup, he couldn't get a hold of the track. And it was a speed-favoring track and my colt was trying to come from off the pace.
"I figured time would help this horse. He's given me every indication that he can run a mile and a quarter (the Derby distance). In all of his races this year, he's run awful fast at the end."
Hauswald does not agree, however, that Demons Begone will be favored.
"I think Temperate Sil might go off at about 2-1 and we might be 5-2," he said.
Right after high school, to the dissatisfaction of his mother, Hauswald took a construction job.
"I was making $300 or $400 a week, and to me that looked like a million," Hauswald said.
His grandfather and uncle had been trainers, and Hauswald had been going to Kentucky race tracks since he was 7.
He quit construction after a year and a half and started walking hots at Oaklawn Park.
"I was making $100 a week, so obviously it was something I wanted to do, rather than the money," Hauswald said. "Getting up at 5 in the morning for that kind of money, it had to be something you were in love with."
One day in 1980, a blacksmith friend of Hauswald's told him that Shug McGaughey was looking for a groom. Hauswald got the job, eventually moving up to assistant trainer. Late in 1985, McGaughey was hired to train the Ogden Phipps family's horses in New York. McGaughey had several clients, including Ed Anthony, the breeder and owner of Demons Begone, and he recommended Hauswald to all of them.
"Some sent their horses to me, others didn't" Hauswald said. "But it was an unbelievable break.
"I've always believed that if you stay in the right circles and work hard, good things will happen. It's hard to pick up good horses at cheap tracks."
Horse Racing Notes
No More Flowers, beaten by just a head by Cryptoclearance in the Florida Derby, will be the odds-on choice if he runs in today's Derby Trial at Churchill Downs. There is a chance that No More Flowers could be scratched from the mile race and just be trained up to the Kentucky Derby. . . . The lackluster field for the Trial lines up this way: No More Flowers, Gretna Green, On the Line, Samerkand, Contractor's Tune, Santa Clara Chief, Funny Tunes and David L.'s Rib. . . . On the Line, who won in his last start, at Oaklawn Park, had previously raced in California, finishing fifth in a division of the Hoist the Flag Stakes at Hollywood Park last November. . . . Some Derby probables worked Friday morning at Churchill Downs on a muddy track. Cryptoclearance worked six furlongs in 1:14 2/5, Bet Twice went 1 1/8 miles in 1:57 2/5 and Candi's Gold was clocked in 1:42 for a mile. . . . The prospects are for a 16-horse Derby, the same as last year. The probable field: The Wayne Lukas-trained trio of Capote, Talinum and War; the LeRoy Jolley-trained pair of Gulch and Leo Castelli; plus Demons Begone, Temperate Sil, Masterful Advocate, Cryptoclearance, Bet Twice, No More Flowers, Alysheba, Shawklit Won, Candi's Gold, Momentus and Templar Hill.