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THE DANCER DAZZLES OLD KENTUCKY
Whitney Tower
May 11, 1964
It was a day to drown in mint juleps, not drink them. At exactly 4:33 p.m. last Saturday a gutsy little colt named Northern Dancer fought his way across the finish line at Churchill Downs to win the 90th running of the Kentucky Derby and prove to Thoroughbred breeders from Chino, Calif. to Ocala, Fla. what they feared all year: the best 3-year-old racehorse in the country—at least for this day and this race—is not from this country at all. Owned by the Canadian Croesus, E.P. Taylor, trained by that sly and genial old refugee from an Argentine horse farm, Horatio Luro, and ridden by Bill Hartack, the thinking man's jockey, Northern Dancer set the Bluegrass industry back several furlongs and at least a dozen years.
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May 11, 1964

The Dancer Dazzles Old Kentucky

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Going past the stands for the first time, with Mr. Brick showing the way, Royal Shuck close up beside him and with Wil Rad and The Scoundrel right there, too, a perhaps significant incident occurred. (Mr. Brick already had bumped Quadrangle slightly leaving the gate.) Now The Scoundrel brushed Hill Rise twice within a sixteenth of a mile. It did not seem to bother Hill Rise much, but it could not have helped him either.

Hartack had a tight hold on Northern Dancer. "I was surprised," he said afterward, "to see The Scoundrel with more early speed than we figured he'd have. Still, I was looking out for Hill Rise. He was the horse I had to respect the most, and I wasn't going to forget it." Going into the first turn, Hartack neatly dropped his horse down on the inside, saving ground behind Quadrangle, and with Hill Rise just outside. They were five lengths off the pace and in just about perfect positions.

On the backstretch Hartack skillfully eased Northern Dancer to the outside to avoid being trapped as they neared the five-eighths pole. "I was still behind Quadrangle," said Hartack, "and I could see I couldn't take his position away from him, so I moved out. Then when I saw The Scoundrel make a run on the turn I dropped in outside of him and left Hill Rise behind me. It was still a half a mile from home, so I let The Scoundrel go in order to save my own horse for the stretch. I was in good shape. I had a horse who had run easily under a tight hold, I was in front of Hill Rise and I knew I had plenty of run left."

Hill Rise might have had more run left, too, if he had not been involved in a further incident. Royal Shuck had been struggling along all this while to keep up with Mr. Brick. When he stopped he didn't do it halfheartedly. He stopped. Mr. Moonlight, right behind him, had to swerve out to avoid running up on him, and when he swerved Mr. Moonlight swerved right into Hill Rise.

Approaching the quarter pole Manuel Ycaza had The Scoundrel in front briefly. Mr. Brick was retiring gradually, although not without a fight. "I decided it was no use to wait any longer," said Hartack. "I knew the time had come to use my speed and use it quickly before Hill Rise could start his own run."

"I could see," Luro said later, "that the first fractions were just about perfect for us [22 2/5, 46, 1:10 3/5] and that Northern Dancer was still a very relaxed horse. Hartack had the vision in the far turn to move at exactly the right time. When he did he covered an eighth of a mile in exactly 11 seconds coming out of that turn. He opened up a little more than two lengths, and that's where he won the race—between the quarter pole and the eighth pole."

"I really went for it leaving the quarter pole," said Hartack. "I didn't know where Hill Rise was, but I knew I had run in my horse." Northern Dancer shot by The Scoundrel and was on his way. Hartack first hit him easily on the shoulder and then whacked at his flank. Shoemaker and Hill Rise, too, were coming—out of trouble at last. But Hartack went into a hard drive and never let up. Shoe was cutting the margin, but not cutting it fast enough. From two lengths back he cut it to one, and he gained all the way to the wire. But at the finish he was still a neck short. A little more than three lengths back was The Scoundrel, a nose in front of Roman Brother, who was a neck in front of fifth-place Quadrangle. As Luro planned, the last quarter was run in exactly 24 seconds.

Except, possibly, for Hill Rise, none of the losers had any excuse. Bobby Ussery, a first-time rider for Quadrangle, said, "He didn't stop. He just couldn't keep up." Then, with a bow to the team that had taken him off Northern Dancer after one unsatisfactory ride at Hialeah this winter, Ussery added, "If I couldn't win it, I'm glad Mr. Taylor did. I won the Queen's Plate for him in front of the Queen one year, and he's a nice man."

Ycaza, also a first-time rider on The Scoundrel, felt his horse might have been annoyed in the stretch by people standing in the infield and Owner Rex Ellsworth believes that by the May 16 Preakness The Scoundrel will be much improved. And what about Shoemaker, who took himself off Northern Dancer to ride Hill Rise? "I'd do the same thing again," said Shoe. "Hartack may have had some luck getting through on the inside on the first turn, and I had a little bad luck on the far turn. I know he had a lot of horse under him turning for home when he opened up those quick two lengths. I followed the best I could, and I was gaining on him. Next time it might be different."

Shoemaker could be right, but his decision to switch horses in midseason proves that even a gifted rider is not infallible as a judge of racing quality. It will never be known whether Don Pierce, riding Hill Rise, would have avoided the trouble Shoe encountered, or whether the Derby just is not Shoemaker's race. Once he stood up in the irons and misjudged the finish, and now he has lost with four favorites. In six Derbies, on the other hand, none of Hartack's four winning rides (he is now only one behind record-holder Eddie Arcaro) was on the post-time favorite.

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