George D. Widener and Captain Harry F. Guggenheim have a number of things in common. They are wealthy philanthropists, they belong to Thoroughbred racing's aristocratic Jockey Club (which Widener heads up as chairman) and they are the proud owners of highly successful racing stables. Harry Guggenheim, 72, earned his captaincy on combat duty with the Navy's air arm in both world wars and has large holdings in mining and minerals. George Widener is 73; the Widener light-and-dark-blue silks have been on the U.S. racing scene since 1913. Last Saturday each man had a horse that was odds-on in a big race. Widener's Jaipur was heavily favored in the Roamer at Aqueduct; Guggenheim's Never Bend was 1 to 2 in New Jersey's Garden State, once known as the world's richest race but now reduced to second-place status despite its gross purse of $273,530. Though Guggenheim also had a horse in the Roamer, and Widener also had a horse in The Garden State, both men turned up at the Jersey track, braving wind, rain and mud underfoot.
About 3:45 p.m. the news from New York came flashing through the mist: Guggenheim's Dead Ahead had just upset Widener's Jaipur in the Roamer. "Once," joked Guggenheim, "I had a chance to win three major stakes in a day. I missed on all three. Now I'll settle for one and be very happy for it. Maybe the Roamer was it."
The Roamer was it. And who won The Garden State, as Guggenheim's favorite, Never Bend, finished third? Widener's chestnut colt, Crewman, of course. In a sense, Crewman's victory was a startling upset. Until, that is, you remembered that his sire, Sailor, relished the kind of slop the Garden State field ran through last weekend—and until you also took into account the fact that Never Bend, winner of seven of his nine previous starts, had never before encountered such conditions.
Never Bend had no other excuse, and it is a well-established axiom among racing people that a good horse must be capable of running on any kind of surface. Crewman simply won The Garden State his own way—the way he has won his last four races. He came out of the gate like a runaway jet, and Willie Shoemaker kept him in front all the way. Manuel Ycaza held Never Bend just off the pace—which was his plan all along—but this day there was no catching the Widener blue silks. Shoe whipped Crewman three or four times on the way home—"I didn't want to spoil the ride by getting mud in my face," he said later—and won by six lengths over In the Pocket, while Never Bend was another three lengths behind. The time was 1:44 for the mile and a sixteenth; and the purse of $164,118, which Crewman provided for Widener's winter walking-around money, pushed this stable up a notch in the national standings, past Fred W. Hooper and into second position behind California's Rex Ellsworth.
Now the question is who is the best 2-year-old in the country? Who is the rightful winter book favorite for the 1963 Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown events? If the mud at Garden State can serve as a justifiable alibi, maybe Never Bend is still the best. Certainly, on a fast track he is devastating. But Crewman also had never run in the slop before The Garden State, and before this first encounter with Never Bend he hadn't done badly either. A nonwinner in his first three starts, when he seemed to hang, tire or just stop, Crewman suddenly improved early in October, when Trainer Bert Mulholland persuaded Shoemaker that riding him might be more profitable than playing ping-pong in the jockeys' room. In four rides aboard Crewman, Shoemaker has yet to lose—which beats ping-pong any day.
Unfortunately, the outcome of The Garden State was not entirely joyful for the Widener camp, nor does it help very much to clarify the 1963 picture. Crewman came back from his winning run slightly lame in his left front leg, and it will be some time before Mulholland and Widener decide when to race him again. Normally Widener does not favor racing his newly turned 3-year-olds during the winter season in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. Jaipur, for example, was quartered at Hialeah last winter but was not raced until early April. He was prepared for the Preakness and Belmont rather than for the Derby.
Will it be the same for Crewman? "We will follow Jaipur's early winter training schedule with Crewman," said Widener. "And we definitely won't rush him at any stage of his 3-year-old year just in order to get him back to the races. About the Kentucky Derby, you know I am not opposed to it for horses of mine, but you must look at the whole winter racing picture. As a matter of fact, if Crewman comes out of this lameness all right he might be just the horse I'd pick to become my first Derby starter. You see, he has this tremendous speed, which I feel is essential in a Derby horse these days. Who knows? He may develop at Hialeah to such an extent that I might decide to put him in the Derby. I'm not against the Derby at all. I'm all for it for horses with the right sort of preparation."
For Never Bend, The Garden State was the last start of the year. "He'll ship to winter quarters in Columbia [ S.C.] around the first of December," said Guggenheim. '"From there we'll go down to Hialeah to prepare for the Flamingo [March 2]. Our objective is to win the Kentucky Derby. That's the target."
The California contenders
While all the chatter at Garden State was earnest and forthright, it might have seemed merely academic to the one man in U.S. racing in a position to argue with both Widener and Guggenheim about who will win the 1963 Kentucky Derby. This, of course, is Rex Ellsworth. His brilliant Candy Spots, another chestnut, beat Never Bend by half a length in the Arlington-Washington Futurity in September and then was withdrawn (undefeated in three starts) to California to await the Santa Anita season, which opens next month. Ellsworth, furthermore, has half a dozen other youngsters at his Chino, Calif. ranch who in his opinion may be better than Candy Spots. The country's leading owner is coming east in 1963 to race in New York as well as in Florida and Chicago. Candy Spots will be pointed primarily for the Santa Anita Derby early in March. Then, if all goes well, he may go to Florida's Gulf-stream Park for the Florida Derby on March 30—the first possible meeting of the new season with Never Bend and Crewman. Then Candy Spots will ship on to Louisville and the hunt for the Derby roses which Swaps won for the Ellsworth-Mish Tenney team in 1955.