The answer, of course, is the horse. The Derby is notorious as a graveyard for horses ill-equipped to run in it. Groovy scorched the half mile in 45[1/5] seconds, tying the Derby record for the fastest opening half—and at the far turn he stopped as if he had hit a wall. That seemed to be the end for Groovy. And what a pity it was.
The colt had endeared himself to all who had come to know him as a back-stretch character. This was the horse that ate raspberry jelly-filled donuts; in fact, he so savored them that he whinnied whenever the coffee wagon pulled up to the barn. "He was like a damn dog," said Crowell. "Anything a man would eat, he'd eat. I fed him a ham sandwich one day. And pickles. I fed him pecans. He'd hear you crack a pecan in the shedrow, and he'd nicker for a pecan. One of the smartest horses I've ever been around."
It was a sad sight to see Groovy shipped to the Preakness that spring. It seemed certain that he would run his eyeballs out and then fold his tent on the turn for home. Why did his owners go to the Preakness? "We didn't know what had happened in the Derby," says Ballis. "You just had to throw the race out." In most corners, though, the thinking was that if the Derby hadn't finished him, the Preakness would surely crush whatever spirit was left.
But the gutsy Groovy survived his poor Preakness showing and, a month later, enjoyed a turn of good fortune when Ballis and Kruckel hired Martin to train him. Groovy won his next three sprints and appeared to be on the way to the American sprint championship until, after two losses, X-rays revealed a bone chip in the right knee.
Successful surgery coupled with nearly seven months' rest brought Groovy to 1987 with the wind at his back. His first two races at six furlongs at Belmont were stunning. In the Roseben Handicap on June 6, he won in a fiery 1:08[2/5]; 15 days later, in the True North Handicap, he sprinted to a track record 1:07[4/5]. After winning two more sprints in July, he triumphed in the Forego Handicap at Saratoga by 1� lengths under high weight of 132 pounds.
The Forego was his first start under new ownership, the three Preston brothers of Houston—Jack, Art and J.R.—proprietors of the Preston Oil Company and Prestonwood Farm. After the 1986 season Ballis had bought the other half of Groovy from Kruckel for $950,000, giving him sole ownership of the horse. Last summer, as Groovy dashed to one stakes victory after another, the Prestons offered Ballis $4 million for him. Ballis took it reluctantly. At Saratoga, after selling the colt, an emotional Ballis said to Jack Preston, "You know, I love this horse as much as you do."
And so, in the end, Groovy has made money for everybody, and he is no longer a nomad. He has three round-the-clock armed guards who sit in front of his stall in eight-hour shifts. "Costs $10,000 a month." Martin says. "I treat this horse like he was the emperor of Japan. He's unbelievable. I never saw one like this before, and I'll never see another again."
Last week Martin opened a restaurant, which he had renovated, across the street from Belmont Park. He named it Groovys, in honor, of course, of his renovated horse.