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They say there is nothing like a good racehorse to bring out the heel in a man. Whoever coined that phrase on the backstretch of another era would have second thoughts if he were wintering at Florida's Hialeah right now.
There are many good horses at Hialeah, but the best is a handsome, deep-rich-chestnut 3-year-old colt with white feet and a star and stripe of the same color in his face. This is Bold Lad, who won eight of 10 races and $387,471 last year, has been the early favorite for the 1965 Kentucky Derby, and so far has miserably failed to bring out the heel in those around him. Not that he hasn't tried. A month ago he reared up in the walking ring and crowned his Irish groom, Dave Sullivan, with his foot. When Sullivan was revived, his first thought was to ask whether Bold Lad's leg had been X-rayed yet. It was all right then, but two weeks later X rays showed that Bold Lad had developed a splint just below the knee on the inside of his right foreleg (SI, Feb. 15). This normally is a minor ailment that merely delays a horse's serious training for about 10 days. However, after Bold Lad was galloped last Friday it was apparent that he had not fully recovered, and getting him ready for the Derby is going to require expert care and superlative horsemanship by his trainer.
Fortunately, that trainer is Bill Winfrey, one of the best in the business, and Winfrey's skill is matched by the devotion of Dave Sullivan, of Bold Lad's exercise boy, Tommy Quinn, of Stable Office Manager John Fitzsimmons, of Foreman and Assistant Trainer Allie Robertson and even by that of Bold Lad's mascot, a 9-month-old police dog named Oliver who is so sweetly disposed that Auric Goldfinger could safely set up headquarters in the next stall to organize a raid on Hialeah's money room.
Despite Bold Lad's temporary infirmity, there is an extra something in the Florida air around Hialeah's Barn C these days—an unusually good morale among stable personnel who know that they are contributing to the success of the country's No. 1 Thoroughbred racing empire. This empire belongs to three generations of Phippses and has been guided by experts like the A. B. Hancocks, father and son, at whose Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. Phipps mares have long been boarded and bred to the finest available stallions. Claiborne Farm is a place, too, where yearlings get the most careful early training.
For 37 years Phipps racing stock was sent from Claiborne to Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who retired in 1963 at the age of 88—but not before he had assured many future Phipps runners by developing some top mares. His most notable accomplishment for the Phipps clan was developing a son of the great Nasrullah, who popped up with exactly the right name: Bold Ruler. As a youngster at Claiborne, Bold Ruler suffered a double hernia. He looked so sickly that Bull Hancock sent him to a back pasture so that visitors to the farm office could not see him. Throughout his career Bold Ruler ran with a rheumatic condition and was never entirely sound. Yet he ran with tremendous heart, always eager to be up with the pace, and he had amazing powers of acceleration. "He could beat any horse in the world from six furlongs to a mile-and-an-eighth," Mr. Fitz said recently. In his career (1956-58) Bold Ruler won 23 of 33 races and $764,204.
Considering his speed, it is not surprising that Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps (who races under the name of Wheatley Stable) and her son Ogden shared Bull Hancock's belief that Bold Ruler could be a top stallion. "On his day he was truly great," says Hancock. "And I believed that a free-runner like that had the best chance possible of producing stayers if his offspring came from strong enough families." Out in California Bill Winfrey, who nearly won the 1953 Kentucky Derby with Alfred Vanderbilt's Native Dancer and who since the late '50s had been operating a public stable, was thinking along exactly the same lines. Winfrey took Mr. Fitz's job in June 1963 and admits today: "Sure, I was influenced greatly by the idea of training some Bold Rulers. I always thought he had more potential as a stud than Nashua. So far he's better, anyway."
So far—and how! No stallion, in fact, has ever started his stud career in this country with such fantastic success. Last year alone he had 10 stakes winners, he became the youngest champion sire to repeat as champion, and he is the only two-time champion in the history of U.S. racing who was the leading sire of 2-year-olds in those same two years.
Last year Mrs. Phipps, son Ogden and grandson Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps owned 20 of the 40 mares to whom Bold Ruler was bred. Hancock receives a few services to Bold Ruler as his managerial fee, and the others—if you can buy one—are worth a minimum of $35,000 each. So much in demand are Bold Ruler's offspring that the only yearling by him sold at public auction in 1964 was purchased for $170,000. The colt's new name, appropriately enough, is One Bold Bid.
While Bold Ruler's oldest racing crop has just turned 5, his winners up to now are scattered among all the crops: six 4-year-olds, 12 3-year-olds and 11 2-year-olds won in 1964. Bold Ruler helped Wheatley last year to the money-winning-owner's award ($1,073,572) and the 2-year-old colt and filly championships with Bold Lad and Queen Empress. In the course of these pleasant activities, Wheatley joined Calumet Farm, C. V. Whitney and Rex Ellsworth as the only stables ever to earn more than $1 million in purses in a season.
Of the 121 youngsters weighted on the recent Experimental Free Handicap list, eight are by Bold Ruler. Topweighted at 130 pounds by Handicapper Tommy Trotter, Bold Lad is in a select group including (from among 250,000 horses ranked in 31 free handicaps) Bimelech, Alsab and Native Dancer, who also received 130 pounds. Only Count Fleet, at 132, was assigned more weight in the Experimental, which attempts to evaluate the new 3-year-olds on the basis of their 2-year-old form and potential. For those who try to read a Kentucky Derby finish from the Experimental weights, it is worth noting that Count Fleet won his Derby, while Bimelech, Alsab and Native Dancer all ran second.