After the first 38 runnings of the Wood Memorial, no fewer than six of its winners went on to win the Kentucky Derby a few weeks later. These six—Gallant Fox, Twenty Grand, Johnstown, Count Fleet, Hoop Jr. and Assault—have made the mile-and-an-eighth Wood the No. 1 training ground ( Hialeah's Flamingo is second with five) of Derby winners among all the major winter and spring stakes on our racing calendar.
Last week at Aqueduct many among the 58,064 present were convinced that the 39th Wood, won by Greentree Stable's No Robbery, had produced a seventh alumnus (and first since Assault in 1946) capable of bringing off this enviable double. No Robbery, a son of Swaps out of the speedy Bimelech mare Bimlette, is now undefeated, with five wins, only one less than Candy Spots. If both take this record with them to the post at Churchill Downs on May 4 it will be the first time in the 89 Kentucky Derbies that the field can boast two unbeaten colts.
Greentree is not pinning all its hopes on No Robbery. His stablemate, Outing Class (winner of last summer's Hopeful at Saratoga), runs in this week's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and if both start in the Derby they will provide owners John Hay Whitney and Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson with an almost ideal double-barreled offensive against Candy Spots and Never Bend. No Robbery has tremendous speed from the gate and loves to run on the front end—for what distance nobody knows yet. Outing Class, on the other hand, comes from way back. He is capable of running down all but the very stouthearted in the stretch.
No Robbery is a beautiful bay, of about average size, who looks much more like the Bimelechs than like Swaps. But he is a curious colt—so much so, in fact, that his curiosity might have cost him victory in the Wood if sheer class hadn't pulled him through. What he does is gawk at things, anything—people, tractors, flagpoles, grass, maybe even the tote board. After the Wood was over, Jockey John Rotz said, "He must have seen everything there was to see at Aqueduct."
Quickly out of the gate in the 10-horse field, No Robbery and George D. Widener's Crewman sped the first half mile together in 46[1/5]. "If Shoe [Shoemaker, aboard Crewman] hadn't taken back at that point," said Rotz, "I would have. Neither of us wanted a two-horse speed duel." Shoe did take back, or rather Crewman did, and so abruptly did he quit that if Shoemaker had had his car parked by the half-mile pole he could have made a quick getaway through Saturday's heavy traffic. Crewman finally finished ninth.
Meanwhile No Robbery had things his way, or mostly so. It was his first race around two turns, and therefore he may be excused for being very green. On the first turn he couldn't very well bear out because Crewman held him in. But once in front all alone he got playful. "He was trying to veer out most of the way," said Rotz. "He looks at the center field, pricks his ears and throws his head all over the place." The payoff came on the final turn, when No Robbery veered toward the middle of the track, losing a good four lengths in the process and allowing Patrice Jacobs' Bonjour to come through on the rail. Rotz, who had been tugging frantically on his left rein the whole trip, now went to bat right-handed with his whip, and No Robbery managed to win over Bonjour by two and a half lengths without brushing off any spectators on the outside rail. His time: a very good 1:49[1/5].
Generally when a horse veers out persistently in his races it means something is hurting him. Both Rotz and Trainer John Gaver say their colt is fine, and certainly No Robbery walked off to his barn without taking a bad step. This trait can also be blamed on lack of experience, or it could be that the colt has a tender mouth. Oddly, he sticks close to the inside rail in his morning works at Belmont, and in winter training at Aiken, S.C. he never treated the Carolina pines with the roguish suspicion that he turns on the Aqueduct tractors and bettors. In any case, in his first race against decent opposition No Robbery demonstrated that he does possess class. Whether this will prove to be stronger than curiosity when the colt gets a peek at the frantic goings-on in the Churchill Downs infield is interesting to contemplate.
The day before the Wood, Never Bend got his first tune-up since the March 2 Flamingo. He was not very impressive in winning the seven-furlong Forerunner at Keeneland by a meager one length (in 1:22[4/5]) over something called Blaze Starr (that's the horse, not the stripper). "It was not one of his best races," said his owner, Captain Harry F. Guggenheim, "but he did what he had to." Never Bend will get one more pre-Derby race, either in this week's Stepping Stone (seven furlongs at Churchill Downs) or in the mile Derby Trial just four days before the big one. Candy Spots will go in the Trial or have no prep race at all. From the way Guggenheim talks it seems likely that Never Bend will pick the Trial. But, said Guggenheim, "Quoting the President, I would have to say, 'it's not quite time to make a judgment on that.' Anyway it depends entirely on what we think is best for our horse. We'll meet Candy Spots all right, but why should we necessarily care about meeting him before the Derby? The Derby will be tough enough."
Tough, yes, and with No Robbery poking his curious nose into the act, that two-horse Derby has acquired a triangular look.