Half a dozen horses in this week's Kentucky Derby have the breeding, the class, the expert trainers and jockeys and the racing experience needed to win. They all have their convinced supporters. Only one of them also has the good wishes of fans everywhere, even their affection, to the extent that he is unquestionably the sentimental favorite of the race. He is the object of his trainer's adoration on the opposite page—Bold Lad.
Even those who find no room for sentiment in the commercial atmosphere of modern racing weaken slightly at Kentucky Derby time, and allow their feelings to run away with abandon from logical considerations. They indulged in such folly in 1958, for example, sending the colorful Silky Sullivan off as co-favorite with a genuine champion named Tim Tam. And no one was overly surprised when Tim Tam won and Silky finished a forlorn 12th.
There is nothing like a Silky Sullivan in this Derby, but in the combination of Bold Lad and Trainer Bill Winfrey are all those ingredients of past misfortune and modest perseverance that inspire sentimental support. Just 12 years ago this week Winfrey came to Louisville with Alfred Vanderbilt's fabulous gray, Native Dancer. Nobody, including Winfrey, thought he could lose the Derby. But he did, by a head to Dark Star, in the only loss of the Dancer's brilliant career. Reflecting on his feelings of May 2, 1953, Winfrey recently cast his clear-blue eyes up at Bold Lad and said with deep seriousness, "I didn't think I had the Derby coming to me then any more than I think it now, but to get beat an eye by a series of misfortunes was tough. And to know you had the best 3-year-old in the country made it tougher."
In Bold Lad, owned by the grand old lady of American racing, Mrs. Henry C. Phipps, Bill Winfrey again believes he has the best 3-year-old in the country. This winter, before Bold Lad came up with the first of his two popped splints which made many people doubt he would ever make it to Louisville, Winfrey said of his Derby chances, "If he stays this way the only way they'll beat him is through bad racing luck." The important point now is that Bold Lad did not stay "this way." He missed some valuable training time, and even a colt who was the 2-year-old champion can ill afford such a lapse when he is aiming for a mile and a quarter in early May.
There are those who believe, also, that Bold Lad is going to be a very tired horse this Saturday at the head of the Churchill Downs stretch, a desperately long quarter of a mile from the wire. Correctly, they point out that Bold Lad's sire, Bold Ruler, was more of a brilliant middle-distance horse than a true stayer (he was fourth in the 1957 Derby), and that not one of his sons has yet won at the Derby's 10-furlong distance.
Last week Winfrey signed on the man who will make the vitally important move with Bold Lad, and he couldn't have done better had he pulled Earl Sande or Eddie Arcaro out of retirement. There will be a special kind of rooting for Jockey Bill Hartack when he gets aboard this colt, for no other modern rider has a Derby record even close to his: four winners in six mounts.
Bold Lad, Winfrey and Hartack are not going to have the 91st Derby to themselves—not by a long shot. Shown on the following pages are some of their leading rivals, and on page 25 is Whitney Tower's analysis of the field.
...BUT, SENTIMENT ASIDE, IT'S TOM ROLFE
This year's Derby field should number between 10 and 15 starters; their trainers and jockeys are walking around Louisville with confident smiles masking deep anxieties—because the top contenders seem so evenly matched.
Going into Tuesday's one-mile Derby Trial, Bold Lad was still what the experts call "the form horse," the one to beat. But very close to him, putting in last hard works in front of the twin spires of the old Downs (see cover), was an extremely able cluster of four or five. The best may well be Tom Rolfe, the compact, handsome son of Ribot shown on the opposite page. Like virtually all the Ribots, Tom Rolfe is on the small side (15 hands 2 inches—or, in layman's language, 5 feet 2 inches from the ground to the horse's withers), but if this bay colt is little he is also a little tiger when he gets to running. Last Saturday at Churchill Downs he had a race over the Derby strip—an important factor—and it indicated that he may be reaching his top form at a time when some of his leading competitors have passed theirs.