Last Thursday, just 38 days before the 86th running of the Kentucky Derby, the biggest racing news of the spring broke, not on a race track in Florida or California or Kentucky but in Barn 13, Stall 21 in the bleak stable area of New York City's Aqueduct.
For racing fans it was bad news, real bad news, concerning Warfare, the charcoal-gray colt who was the leading candidate for this year's Derby. Between noon and 2:30 on that fateful day Warfare mysteriously hurt his left hind ankle, and the injury caused his immediate withdrawal from this season's spring classics and perhaps from racing forever.
Warfare, whose father Determine won the Kentucky Derby in 1954, seemed to be on the edge of the spectacular. He arrived in New York late last fall from California and suddenly matured against the hardest type of competition. Between the first week of October 1959 and the final week of March 1960 he started in four stakes and won them all, earning $359,070 in the combined time of five minutes, 50[1/5] seconds. He beat the best of his contemporaries, Bally Ache, Tompion and Vital Force, and beat them badly.
Only two weeks ago he won the Swift Stakes at Aqueduct in a manner that made many oldtimers whistle. After the race he was put back in his stall to await last week's Gotham Stakes, a race in which he would have been the prohibitive favorite.
He was playful in his barn for five days, nipping the sleeves of people walking past, taking keen interest in any movement before him. Early Thursday morning he galloped over the track and seemed his normal self. He was put back into his stall at 10 a.m.
"I checked on him at noon," said Bill Winfrey, Warfare's affable trainer, "and he was fine. I don't think he could have hurt himself on the track because he would have stepped off on the leg and we would have noticed that he was hurt. I believe he did it in his stall. He was frisky and playing around and I think he must have turned quickly or kicked the side of his stall. Horses do this quite often and seldom seem to get hurt. It's one of those freak things. It's a shame but there are a lot of shames in racing, I guess, and this is just one of them. We called Dr. William H. Wright, the veterinarian, and he took X rays, trying to find just what it was. Warfare was keeping his weight off the leg."
While Dr. Wright and Winfrey were going over the aspects of Warfare's injury, there were many racing fans waving their fingers and saying, "Ah! The old Garden State jinx. It catches up with all the winners of the Garden State!"
This, of course, is a reference to the mile-and-one-sixteenth Garden State, which is billed as "The World's Richest Race" and is run every fall at Garden State Park outside of Camden, New Jersey. The race normally produces the winter-book favorite for the next year's Kentucky Derby. Since it was first run in 1953, however, its winners have been dogged by bad luck.
Turn-to, the first Garden State winner in 1953, hurt his right front foot and was retired early in 1954. Summer Tan, the second winner, suffered an intestinal embolism in 1954 and nearly died. Prince John, the winner of the third Garden State, broke a bone in his right foot. Barbizon, the 1956 winner, had assorted injuries early in 1957; Nadir, the winner of the fifth running, picked up a virus infection. First Landing, the 1958 winner, was, until recently, hobbled by a kidney infection.
While it is probably severe to point to the Garden State and say "jinx," it is true that only two of its winners have ever gotten to the Kentucky Derby (First Landing and Summer Tan, both finishing third); only one of its winners has ever gotten into the starting gate in the Preakness (First Landing, who finished ninth); and no winner of the Garden State has ever run in the Belmont, perhaps the most prestige-laden of the 3-year-old classics.