Trainer Dianne Carpenter was having a bad day. Shortly before the seventh running of the $500,000 Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., on Saturday, Kingpost, her 3-year-old charge, tried to kick down a wall in his stall, loosened one of his leg bandages and. in the paddock, planted a hoof on his security guard. In addition, Carpenter was worried about the track's surface, which two days of intermittent rain had turned into butterscotch pudding. As Carpenter looked at it, she moaned, "I just feel terrible about this mud! I don't know if he likes it or not. He's never run in the mud. This is like a horror show."
By sunset, however, the clouds had parted, figuratively if not literally. After a thrilling finish that for a moment almost looked like a triple dead heat. Kingpost, who had gone off at 21-1, was declared the winner by a head over Stalwars, who was a nose in front of the 2-1 favorite, Brian's Time. When her horse's number flashed in first, Carpenter burst into tears, waded across the track in her high heels and planted a kiss on Kingpost's mud-spattered nose. "How about this horse!" she exclaimed. "He did it all."
In the days before the Beam, a 1?-mile prep race for the Kentucky Derby, the consensus was that just about any of the 11 contenders could win. Brian's Time was the favorite off his gutsy win in the Florida Derby on March 5. Stalwars, one of two California colts in the race, was the third choice because of his win in the Bradbury Stakes at Santa Anita on March 9 and a second and a third on off tracks at Hollywood Park. The only entry with a mud mark as well as speed was the other California colt, Drouilly's Boy. The knock against him was that he had never raced farther than seven furlongs. And as D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of second-choice Dynaformer, observed as the rain hammered the metal roof of the stakes barn, "On a day like today, anything can happen."
And of course it did. When the gate opened, four long shots went to the front. Just past the half-mile mark Drouilly's Boy took the lead and stayed there until the three-quarter mark, when he started to fade. Kingpost, who races from off the pace, was in eighth place at the quarter, fifth at the half and second by the three-quarter mark. At the top of the stretch the gelding moved to the lead, and jockey Gene Sipus went to the stick, whipping him furiously all the way to the wire. Stalwars, who was making his run from fourth place, got stopped when Delightful Doctor lugged in as they entered the second turn. Jockey Gary Stevens had to steady Stalwars for about five strides and lost momentum.
Meanwhile, Brian's Time was running all by himself in last place, 14 lengths behind the leader at the half-mile mark. But then, Brian is a come-from-behind horse. At the three-quarter mark the colt began to move. He swung out into the middle of the track entering the stretch and kicked in with a powerful burst of speed. Kingpost, Stalwars and Brian's Time all whooshed to the wire at once, but in the end Kingpost, a son of Stalwart, prevailed, winning in a decent 1:50[4/5]. Stalwars, another son of Stalwart, and Brian's Time were right behind, and it took the photo-finish camera to tell the tale.
Carpenter was, of course, ecstatic, and so was Kingpost's owner, Mark Warner, who had bred, broken and trained both the first-and second-place finishers. But Warner had kept only Kingpost. "We gave up Stalwars because, frankly, he's a far prettier horse and was easier to sell," he said. "Kingpost is structurally good, but his face isn't too pretty. And his spine looks like you could fillet him like a fish—it sticks right out of his back. He looked beautiful crossing the finish line, though."
Ugly enough to keep and good enough to go to Louisville, that's Kingpost. Although the Beam was the gelding's first stakes win and only his third victory in 11 starts, Carpenter has felt for some time that she had something special in her barn. She started pointing Kingpost toward the Derby last year. "I knew I was right about him," she said, "He just needed to know he could do it."