The hazards of horse racing regularly produce high drama, and last Saturday they nearly reduced to a crashing shambles one of the important tests for the Kentucky Derby. It is an oddity of the racing calendar that two of these trials are run on the same day, on opposite sides of the country. In California's Santa Anita Derby 13 horses spun into the clubhouse turn, and an instant later four were riderless (above). Rex Ellsworth's Candy Spots (No. 5) went on to win. In the Flamingo Stakes at Florida's Hialeah, No. 5 also won—Captain Harry Guggenheim's Never Bend. Thus was confirmed the two-horse rivalry that is firing the imagination of racing fans. The triumphs and tragedies are reported on the following pages.
A DERBY FAVORITE COMES THROUGH A GRIM TRIAL
The most eye-catching colt in the U.S. won his Kentucky Derby test in style. Candy Spots, who attracts a chatter of appreciation from ordinary fans as well as the sober approbation of expert horsemen, threw off a physical shock in the Santa Anita Derby that would have unnerved many other 3-year-olds and still ran away from all comers. It is not just his come-from-behind ability that commands attention; he is simply a magnificent animal. All chestnut horses look good, and Candy Spots is a big one, fully 16 hands 2 inches and almost 1,100 pounds. A long white stripe down his face helps and, finally, there are those unique (and scientifically unexplained) markings that give him his name. On his back and hind legs are splashings of black and white that look as if they were flicked on by paint brushes.
In his first major race of the season Saturday, Candy Spots was the magnet for 57,000 pairs of eyes as the 13-horse field broke from the gate. He would surely have remained the focus of attention all the way if there had been no accident. As it was, the fantastic pileup so distracted the crowd that most people failed to appreciate fully Candy's excellent performance. Many also missed the fact that, but for a fluke of racing luck. Candy Spots himself—a $1 million hunk of horseflesh which Rex Ellsworth has not insured—might not have survived the worst crash ever seen on a U.S. racetrack in a major stakes race.
The drama, heightened if anything by the beautiful and well-ordered stage on which it took place, developed within seconds of the start. At first it appeared as if careless, hell-for-leather riding had caused the accident. Later the film patrol exonerated the participants. The trouble, actually, was that only one horse in this field wanted to run out ahead. The other 12 all wanted to take back and be second.
Following his break from stall 13, Johnny Longden gunned Alfred Vanderbilt's Might and Main to the lead and, by the time he was into the clubhouse turn, old grandpappy John had moved his horse across the track to the inside rail with a clear margin. But behind him all was explosive.
Following Might and Main were Fred Hooper's entry. Sky Gem and Win-Em-All, and Robert LeSage's Round Rock, the three of them closer than a London fog, the three riders trying to contain their mounts and at the same time avoid the complications that can result from close-quarter running. Braulio Baeza was on the inside of this trio with Sky Gem. Baeza already had observed that Sky Gem was trying to bear out. Suddenly he noticed another disturbing thing: Sky Gem was about to run up on Might and Main's heels.
Then it happened. Sky Gem bore out again, and as he did he tripped up his own stablemate. Milo Valenzuela flew off Win-Em-All as though the pair of them had been hit by a howitzer. He pitched forward onto the track and lay frighteningly still. Into this muddle of flesh tore Doolin Point, Denodado and Royal Tower, and their riders went sailing, either from contact with a fallen horse or because they were alert enough to bail out in the last split second. (Denodado broke both his left legs and was destroyed immediately at the request of his trainer, Charles Whittingham. For this purpose a pistol was borrowed from a security officer, the bullet was dispatched through the crippled horse's brain and—in keeping with the eerie nature of the afternoon—bounced away to injure a bystander lightly. Win-Em-All suffered cuts on both hind legs, a bloody nose and swollen mouth. He will surely miss the Florida Derby. Doolin Point had superficial cuts and bruises. Royal Tower was unscratched. All four jockeys went to the hospital with bruises but were released that night.)
At the same time, the second echelon of horses behind Sky Gem and Win-Em-All was having trouble. On the rail Country Squire bore out without warning. He slammed into Beekeeper. Beekeeper slammed into Candy Spots and knocked him almost sideways and four or five feet to the outside. It was exactly that four or five feet that saved Candy from barreling at full tilt into the fallen Win-Em-All. Suddenly Candy Spots had a clear track in front of him. From there on he was able to run his race.
The rest was almost anticlimactic. Might and Main held his lead until the reduced field turned for home. Sky Gem was behind him, but Bill Shoemaker had Candy Spots nicely in third place, just two lengths off the pace. Then he took the spotted chestnut to the outside and gradually wore down the front-runners. The winner was drawing away at the finish, the way a good horse should. In so doing, despite his undistinguished time of 1:50 1/5, Candy Spots had partly helped to answer several questions.