Even for an experienced partygoer like the dashing Horatio Luro, last week's Florida Derby Ball at Miami Beach's Carillon Hotel was a bit of all right. The tall Latino, who trains Northern Dancer for Canadian E. P. Taylor, roared at Georgie Jessel's jokes, gazed admiringly at a rather fleshy stripper and, from time to time, wondered if his guests, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor and Jockey Bill Shoemaker, were having as much fun as he was. The Taylors seemed to be, while Shoe rode out the long evening, squirming in his neat little tuxedo, with the look of a man who knows that occasionally a world-famous athlete must dine with the boss even though he would rather belt down a few with the boys in a key club at the Miami Springs Villas.
When Luro finally got home the sleep that should have come easily hardly came at all. All he could think of, in fact, was Northern Dancer's race in the Florida Derby the next afternoon. "After the ball he tossed and turned all night," said his pretty wife Frances.
"And why wouldn't I?" said Luro. "I was remembering how Northern Dancer ran away with his exercise boy on Friday morning. He did five furlongs in 58 seconds, and I was scared to death. That could have been his race right there, you know, just thrown away in a workout."
The management of Gulfstream Park and the 30,212 spectators who showed up in humid 82� weather on Saturday refused to share Horatio Luro's worries. Confidence in Northern Dancer was the order of the day—so much so that Joe Tanenbaum, the track's information director, threw superstition to the warm Florida winds early Saturday morning. An iron jockey stands alone in the center of Gulfstream's walking ring, dressed in the painted silks of the winning owner of the previous year's Florida Derby. For the last year it has worn Rex Ellsworth's black and red colors in honor of Candy Spots. On Saturday morning Tanenbaum boldly ordered those colors stricken in favor of E. P. Taylor's turquoise. Then, he explained, after the Florida Derby the painter would only have to add some gold spots to the turquoise to complete the motif of Taylor's Windfields Farm.
As it turned out, Tanenbaum and his painter called their shots—or spots—perfectly, and Horatio Luro could have saved some of his tosses and turns for Louisville the night of May 1, Kentucky Derby eve. Northern Dancer was made a 3-to-10 favorite and he let nobody down as he added the Florida Derby to his earlier Flamingo score. Now he heads north to Kentucky as co-favorite for the Derby with California's Hill Rise, who is already at Keeneland. They may meet in the April 23 Blue Grass, and that should be quite a race, too.
Only seven opponents showed up to challenge the Dancer (Owner Taylor unconsciously called him Native Dancer when describing him to a friend at the Friday ball), and most of them should have stayed in their stalls. In the paddock, Taylor, who often looks as though one of his many companies has just declared bankruptcy, was beaming. Rival Owner John Galbreath (Saltville) said, "Eddie, you aren't scared of anyone, and you don't have to be." Taylor insisted he was, but nobody believed him.
Luro threw Shoemaker up on the bay son of Nearctic, gave him two friendly pats on the seat of his white pants and left to watch the race. He looked like an Argentine version of Alec Guinness who has just tossed the crown jewels into the trunk of his car.
Having drawn the inside post position, Shoemaker's only problem, as he and Luro saw it, was to get good position going into the first turn and then lay slightly off the pace until it was time to make the winning move going into the far turn. Everyone knew who was going to set the pace, because at a press breakfast the morning before, Herb Paley, trainer of the long shot Greek Episode, had accommodated all hands by announcing, "Our horse is as sharp as a razor blade now, and whoever wins will have to catch us first."
"I wasn't much concerned with catching Greek Episode," said Shoemaker later. "I didn't think he'd go this distance anyway, so it didn't bother me."
Sure enough, Greek Episode shot quickly to the front, but Northern Dancer was never far behind. Shoe was slightly crowded by Saltville going into the first turn, but coming out of it he moved Northern Dancer into perfect position, a length off the pacesetter and a length ahead of Rex Ellsworth's The Scoundrel.