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A number of Derby-bound colts got in their final tune-ups in Kentucky last week, and the performances of the two heavy favorites, Tompion and Bally Ache, should have been enough to scare most rival owners clear out of Jefferson County, where the 86th Kentucky Derby will be run this week.
Tompion did his running in the mile-and-an-eighth Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Bally Ache at Churchill Downs in the seven-furlong Stepping Stone. Roughly a dozen other colts skipped both these races, but will have at each other in the Derby Trial at an even mile. It would take a truly smashing performance by the Trial winner, however, to convince early arrivals at Louisville that the Derby will go to any horse other than Tompion or Bally Ache.
The Blue Grass drew but four starters, and of these only Edward P. Taylor's Victoria Park was conceded any kind of chance to upset the C.V. Whitney favorite. But Tompion ran like the 3-to-10 shot he was, recovering from a difficult start (Victoria Park came over slightly on him) to turn in a championship race. After completing the distance in 1:48 3/5, Willie Shoemaker worked him on to the full mile-and-a-quarter Derby distance in a sensational 2:01 4/5—only two-fifths of a second off Whirlaway's Derby record.
What was most impressive about Tompion's showing was that he never did any serious running until the eighth pole, and when he did, it was all over for the rest of his field.
The No. 1 rumor from Churchill Downs for most of the week was that Bally Ache was sore. All I know is this: if he was sore for the Stepping Stone on opening day I'd like to have a barnful of sore horses just like him. Bally Ache took the lead, as usual, at the start, with his old Florida Derby rival Venetian Way trailing him dutifully. Leonard Fruchtman's colt rattled around the off-track (officially it was "good," but in fact it was pretty slick) in sizzling time—:22[2/5] for the quarter, :45 for the half, 1:09[3/5] for the six furlongs, and the full seven furlongs in 1:22[3/5], just three-fifths off the track record. At the finish he was three and a quarter lengths ahead of Venetian Way and probably could have made it more had he been pressed.
The two races should eliminate all the losers except possibly Venetian Way and Divine Comedy (third in Bally Ache's victory), and Victoria Park. And at week's end two other colts were all but counted out: Maine Chance Farm's Never Give In was expected to return to New York to prepare for the Preakness, skipping the Derby entirely, and Llangollen Farm's Eagle Admiral suffered a slight fracture in his right front knee, which will most certainly keep him in the barn on Derby Day.
What all this might mean is that more owners of long shots may elect to enter the big one, figuring that long shots have beaten heavy favorites in Derbies before and no doubt will beat them again. At last counting, there were about 20 owners still hoping to go for the roses. Each will have paid a total of $1,600 by the time the starting gates lock. Win or lose, all of them will have a memorable experience, and none will care particularly that the inclusion of bad or undeserving colts in the Derby can only result in a contest which is anything but a true race. Count me on the side of a number of prominent horsemen who strongly feel that if a man had to put up $3,000 to start in the Derby, the field would be cut—and the race for that reason alone would be a better one.
Count me once more—still on the side of those who think Tompion is going to beat Bally Ache this Saturday afternoon.
This magazine has long felt that if the prosperity of American Thoroughbred racing is to be preserved in proper perspective, its leaders must follow the principle of sport first, business second. When the great new Aqueduct opened last fall the stage was set for record-breaking attendance figures and mutuel handle. So much emphasis was put upon this phase of the sport that it appeared for a while that the very men responsible for the racing renaissance in New York—the sports-minded gentlemen of The Jockey Club—had suddenly become oblivious to the concepts on which the club was founded.