At Santa Anita race track last week, Jockey Willie Shoemaker accepted any and all future mounts-including, hopefully, the Kentucky Derby—on a stretch-running marvel of a 3-year-old named Silky Sullivan, who is already one of the most celebrated race horses ever to run on the West Coast, and is one of California's two prime bets to become only the third Cal-bred in history to win the Louisville classic.
Shoe's action points up another significant factor of this racing season at Santa Anita—the Kentucky Derby hysteria which has taken over California. Since the good 3-year-olds on the grounds at Santa Anita are far fewer than those in Florida or even in winter quarters, California normally considers itself lucky if it can produce even one runner with a chance for the Churchill Downs classic. This year it has two. Jockey Eddie Arcaro has long since staked a claim to the second of the Golden State's hopefuls, a smooth-running 3-year-old named Old Pueblo, who has been likened even to the great Swaps in some dockers' circles at Arcadia.
There are other 3-year-olds campaigning at Santa Anita this winter, to be sure, but most of them have spent their racing days chasing one of the top two mentioned above. Rex Ellsworth's white-stockinged The Shoe is a perfectly swell colt and worth an across-the-board bet in almost any race he enters—except when Old Pueblo and Silky Sullivan are in, when a mere show bet will do.
The rest of California's 3-year-olds may yet bloom. After all, it is early in the year. But the scornful designation of one railbird—"just a lot of $10,000 horses"—would seem to be the best evaluation of their capabilities.
Old Pueblo, whose number has gone up in every race he has ever run (he won seven legitimately and an eighth through a disqualification), would seem to the conservative expert to be the West's best bet. But Silky Sullivan's stretch run, a dizzying coronary dash at the last fraction of the race, has so dazzled Pacific turf experts that most have now persuaded themselves that all the flaming chestnut colt needs is a bit more distance of ground. He always does get ahead of the other horses, so they argue. Only trouble is, it's a couple of lengths past the finish line. Eddie Arcaro this week paid eloquent tribute to the extraordinary Silky: "This colt is a real running fool. He ran his last eighth in something like 10 seconds flat—that's flying."
Old Pueblo, Eddie's mount, is a front-runner with the placid disposition and attentiveness to business on the race track that is the hallmark of the Thoroughbred champion. He was bred in Newhall, California by the Peter McBean stud out of an Ariel mare, Shadows Fall, who has been faulted as a mere sprinter by most self-appointed authorities. Breeder McBean dissents, pointing out she is a half-sister to the classic colt Hampden. Old Pueblo has still run only one mile race but he did that as smoothly as he turned out 7 furlongs—and over a heavy track at that.
The excitement over this pair has made this year's Santa Anita meet one of the most fascinating since the days of the Noor-Citation rivalries. If both horses stay sound, they may hook up with the East's Tim Tam and Nadir to make the 1958 Kentucky Derby truly memorable.