The crowd of 21,483 on hand for the Governor's Gold Cup at Bowie last Saturday went home with mixed and mystifying thoughts. On the one hand, it saw Mrs. Ethel D. Jacobs' Isle of Greece run away to a four-length victory in the seven-furlong test and must conclude that this gray son of Porterhouse is a genuine Kentucky Derby candidate.
On the other hand, there was the scratching of Raymond Guest's Tom Rolfe. This most promising Ribot colt turned away from his feed tub early in the morning and subsequently was discovered to be running a slight temperature. "It is nothing serious," said his trainer, Frank Whiteley, "because we caught it in time, and it will probably set his training back only three or four days. We'll now point for the seven-furlong Bay Shore at Aqueduct on March 24 and then go in either the Gotham [April 3] or the Wood Memorial [April 17] before shipping to Kentucky."
Isle of Greece's win was significant, in the opinion of his trainer-breeder, Hirsch Jacobs, because it was the first meeting of the year between a colt who had raced at Santa Anita and those who had come up from Hialeah. Isle of Greece's record on the West Coast—three wins in eight starts—was commendable if not spectacular. He was beaten only two lengths by Lucky Debonair in the San Vicente and then lost by slightly less than that margin to Jacinto and Lucky Debonair in the San Felipe.
"That means," said Jacobs, "that if we can beat horses like Hi-Hasty and Golden Joey and Bosun so easily Lucky Debonair and Jacinto must be really good, with Isle of Greece not too far behind. The Santa Anita form looked good from the beginning, but now it looks as if it might hold up against anything from the East—until we discover what's going to happen with Bold Lad's comeback."
Mrs. Marion duPont Scott's Bosun just has not run to the form that carried him to four wins and two seconds in six 1964 starts. The son of Sailor was a big, impressive 2-year-old but seems now more like a not-developed-enough 3-year-old. He had no excuse in the Governor's Gold Cup, finishing fourth, a length behind the early pacesetter, Golden Joey, who was barely a head behind second-place Hi-Hasty.
It has become fashionable in recent years to think of Derby favorites in terms of those colts who have made the most impressive records in Florida and California—totally neglecting the ones who never got to either of those winter-racing states. For example, on the same day that Isle of Greece was winning at Bowie, Dapper Delegate boosted his own Derby stock by taking the Louisiana Derby at New Orleans' Fair Grounds for his fourth victory in a row. And what about the many who skipped racing altogether to train in South Carolina? Tom Rolfe is one of these. Greentree's Groton is another, and both will be seen soon at Aqueduct.
But if Groton is a good long-shot bet, I would consider Tom Rolfe a safer one even though he has made only one start this year, winning over six furlongs at Bowie on March 3. Like most sons of Ribot, Tom Rolfe is a bit on the small side, and also like the Ribots, he does not do much early running. However, he can be placed anywhere. He stormed from sixth to beat Sadair by two and a half lengths in last fall's Cowdin, indicating that he is capable of going a real distance. Out of the mare Pocahontas, by Roman, Tom Rolfe is a half brother to Raymond Guest's speedy Chieftain, who discovered last year that speed, not stamina, was his forte. By coincidence Chieftain was by Bold Ruler.
At any rate, if Tom Rolfe does develop into a colt of top quality, nobody will deserve the honor more than Virginia Politician-Sportsman Raymond Guest. A massive man with snow-white hair, a hearty laugh and an engaging sense of humor, Guest was an eight-goal polo player for many years. The day before he came to Bowie, only to learn of Tom Rolfe's untimely fever, he had motored up to Washington from his Powhatan Plantation near King George, Va. to be briefed at the White House by President Johnson on his duties as our newly appointed Ambassador to Ireland. Guest also owns a 300-acre stud farm 14 miles from Dublin, and one of the stallions standing there is Larkspur, who won him the Epsom Derby in 1962. "The Irish and I get along marvelously," said Guest on Saturday as he strolled through the Bowie mob in the kind of tweed cap that he regularly wears to the Curragh. "They wanted me to keep Larkspur over there so badly that I sold half of him for $140,000 and spent the money to buy my own place, Ballygoran Park in Maynooth, County Kildare. I did it for the Irish, nothing else."
Guest has made the study of early Virginia history a favorite pastime, and from his bookwork have come many names for his horses, including Tom Rolfe. "My farm is named Powhatan after the Indian chief who greeted Captain John Smith when he landed in 1607. After Pocahontas saved Smith's life she married a tobacco planter, John Rolfe. Their one son was Thomas Rolfe, founder of many fine Virginia families. Incidentally, Pocahontas was received as a visiting princess at England's court and went hunting with British royalty. While returning to Virginia, she became fatally ill on shipboard in the Thames Estuary and was buried at Gravesend."
The Irish will surely go for this White Knight of a romanticist, but visitors to the U.S. Embassy in Dublin this summer probably will find the reception even warmer if they brush up on their race results on the way over. And if they show up on May 1 they may find the Ambassador not at home. "I'd sure like to see Tom Rolfe in the Kentucky Derby," said Guest, "but I don't know if I can get home. My job starts on April 26, and if I turn around and come home the next day, I'm afraid President Johnson might fire me after one day on the Government payroll."