A HORSE THAT WAS READY AT THE RIGHT TIME
Only a handful of admirers stood up to be counted when a sleek chestnut colt named Chateaugay won the Blue Grass at Keeneland nine days before the Kentucky Derby by taking a head decision over Get Around. He had not yet faced the big three—Candy Spots, Never Bend and No Robbery—his critics said. Among the few who were sure of his class were Chateaugay's owner, John W. Galbreath, his trainer, Jimmy Conway, and stone-faced, icy-cool and wondrously gifted Jockey Braulio Baeza. After the Blue Grass this diminutive citizen of Panama told his bosses and anyone else who cared to listen: "This horse is ready to run two miles." Conway endorsed both Baeza and his observations: "This jock suits him perfectly. The horse runs more freely for Baeza. Besides, Chateaugay is just now getting properly seasoned."
The key word there was "now"—not nine weeks ago for the Flamingo or Santa Anita Derby, or five weeks ago for the Florida Derby, or two weeks ago for the Wood Memorial. Right now.
Although he is a son of Swaps, Chateaugay had drawn little attention this spring while winning all three of his pre-Derby starts. First he won a seven-furlong allowance race at Hialeah, then a slightly longer one at Keeneland in mid-April. He really qualified for the Derby by winning the Blue Grass—a mile and an eighth in a snappy 1:48—but in this odd season an unbeaten horse hardly seemed cause for setting off fireworks.
Two of the Derby starters, Candy Spots and No Robbery, had never been beaten in their young lives, and in addition to Chateaugay there was Never Bend with a clean 1963 record. This meant that, among them, four of the nine Derby starters had won 13 races this year and lost none. Chateaugay was the least regarded member of this distinguished quartet, because his victories were not impressive and he had not beaten top-rank opposition.
In the final hectic days before the Derby, crowds of newsmen and bettors dragged themselves out at dawn to look over the big three in the Churchill Downs barns. Candy Spots was the main attraction of barn 41, and rightly so. Trainer Mesh Tenney appeared supremely confident. His horse was ready, he told the sightseers, to run the race of his life. Tenney himself was having an unusually busy social life. To please the writers he went to many evening functions, but then took revenge on them by working Candy Spots at 6 a.m. instead of at the more civilized hour of 8:30 or 9. And when asked for an opinion of the race, Tenney would screw up his face into one big wrinkled grin and groan, "We have settled into the desperate calm that everyone else is in—and now we just have to wait. I think it's a desperate thing to get any part of the purse. I thought so with Swaps, and I think so now."
Down the line at barn 42 was Never Bend, guarded around the clock by a special force of three uniformed sergeants of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. Trainer Woody Stephens and Owner Harry Guggenheim were noticeably worried over Never Bend's left front ankle, but they decided at the last minute that this minor injury, incurred at Keeneland, was not sufficient to prevent the colt from running his best race. Still, they worried. At the other end of barn 42 was No Robbery. He worked in blinkers and worked well in them. Trainer John Gaver preferred to talk about the New York Mets rather than about his horse, but No Robbery looked trim and alert, and his willingness to run in a straight line instead of a convoy course spoke for itself.
In between these two showpieces in barn 42 was Patrice Jacobs' Bonjour, while on the other side of the barn—the unfashionable side—was Chateaugay. Not many people went to call on him, for not many people really believed he had a good shot at the big money. Trainer Conway leaned against the side of the shed row with a happy smile on his face and told visitors, "If I didn't think we were ready to run a mile and a quarter we wouldn't be here."
By Saturday all Louisville was in a high-grade tizzy. John Gaver told Jockey John Rotz not to gun No Robbery into the lead if he could rate him. Captain Guggenheim and Woody Stephens huddled with Jockey Manuel Ycaza and gave some specific instructions: "Let him break on his own, and then take a reading from there. But don't run head and head with anyone." Running head and head is the cardinal sin at Cain Hoy.
Mesh Tenney didn't have to tell Jockey Bill Shoemaker the obvious—keep Candy Spots off the pace but within striking distance at all times. When Braulio Baeza showed up at Jimmy Conway's side the Gal breath trainer didn't bother with any advice either. He simply said, "You're the jockey. You ride him. I have confidence in you—and in him."