The fabled A.J. Foyt Jr. stood under the shedrow of his barn at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. last Saturday, holding court. A.J. had had a very good day. His front-running colt, the undefeated Rare Brick, had just won the $132,600 Rebel Stakes, and the Chairman of the Brickyard, winner of a record four Indy 500s, was feeling expansive. "He's proven to be my best horse so far," said Foyt. "He can win two more times, I wouldn't mind."
You better believe Foyt wouldn't mind. The next two races on the colt's schedule are the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and if he wins those, Oaklawn will hand him a $1 million bonus for the three-race sweep.
Rare Brick's main competition in the 1[1/16]-mile Rebel was a magnificent-looking bay colt named Clear Choice, who was flown in from California by trainer D. Wayne Lukas the Tuesday before the race. The only problem was, Clear Choice hadn't won in six starts. Besides Lukas's mystery maiden, there was Rampage, a local colt who had already won two races over the Oaklawn track at the Rebel distance. The farthest Rare Brick had run was a mile, in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. But what a mile. He had wired it in an impressive 1:36[1/5] over a dead track and had won by 11 lengths.
Two days before the Rebel, A.J. Foyt III, a.k.a. Tony, the 30-year-old trainer of Rare Brick, sat in his tack room at Oaklawn with a wad of Skoal tucked tight in his cheek and allowed as how, yeah, you get a little nervous before a major race, especially when your horse is owned by your daddy, and your daddy is going to be there.
"Rampage is a real nice horse," Tony said before the Rebel, "and Lukas wouldn't have sent that other colt all the way from California if he didn't think he was a good horse."
Said Lukas: "We're here to see what he can do and evaluate him. I'm not saying we can win it, but at least we'll know what we've got."
When the eight-horse field broke from the gate, Rare Brick was the crowd's clear choice, going off at 1-5. He zoomed to the lead, peeling off the first quarter in 22[4/5], with Clear Choice right behind and outside him. Going up the backstretch, Clear Choice made a move just past the half-mile pole, but Rare Brick's jockey, Mike Smith, kept the pedal to the metal and the colt responded. At the six-furlong mark, Clear Choice challenged again, getting within a length, but still couldn't get past the leader. Rare Brick just flew, running with his head up and his tail streaming out behind him. With the rest of the pack four to five lengths back, it looked as if two races were being run at the same time. At the top of the stretch, Rare Brick had a three-length lead, but Clear Choice slowly started to close the gap. The Oaklawn crowd was letting out Rebel yells as the horses dueled down the stretch. Both jockeys went to the whip, and at the finish it was Rare Brick by a head. The time was a decent 1:43[1/5] on the fast track.
In the winner's circle the charismatic elder Foyt got most of the attention, while Tony stood off to the side.
Which figured. Tony has never tried to compete with A.J. for public acclaim. He has always preferred horses to horsepower. At 14 he got started in a quiet way by working with show horses. At 16 he won the Western Pleasure class at the Kentucky State Fair Horse Show.
"Show horses really teach you a lot about conformation," he says, "but there's really no money in it. I decided that if I was going to make a living, I'd have to go with racehorses."