The Abe's Hope people, after such harrowing experiences in both the Flamingo and Florida Derby, might be excused if they never stabled in the Sunshine State again. But they are not giving up. Their colt, a son of Better Bee purchased in a four-horse package deal last August from Illinois Racing Commissioner William Miller, is as game as any horse in training. What makes him worthy of Derby consideration is that he finishes well and appears to like a distance. Mike Ford, the Omaha manufacturer who owns Kauai King, is not ready to turn his back on a Triple Crown challenge either. "We'll take our colt to Bowie next," he says, "and then to Kentucky."
While these people were pondering the futures of their colts—and while the Phippses were trying to regroup a stable of 3-year-olds that once looked as unbeatable as the teams from Calumet of 10 and 20 years ago—the real Derby interest was narrowing down to two old professionals, ready and waiting at Keeneland. In one corner was John Gal-breath, his undefeated (five for five) Graustark recovered from a bruised heel and set for a six-furlong sharpener this Saturday. In the other corner was cagey Bull Hancock, owner of undefeated (eight for eight) Moccasin, champion 2-year-old filly of 1965. Between the two of them Graustark and Moccasin could elevate the 92nd Kentucky Derby from a depressing scramble into an epic battle. But there are some big ifs.
Last week, with Galbreath on hand, Graustark had his final workout at Hialeah and was, according to his proud owner, "a joy to behold, running through the slop." The next morning Trainer Lloyd Gentry fixed a light skullcap on Graustark's head, and the son of Ribot was walked up the ramp of an ancient Southern Airways Transport C-46 for the $3,000, five-hour charter flight of 900 miles to Lexington. Galbreath clambered up the ramp after his prized possession, walked to the front of Graustark's tight box stall and patted his handsome head. "All ashore who plan to go ashore," said the pilot. Galbreath took a last look at his horse and said, "He's got a lot of sense and a very inquiring eye." Later, when the subject of Hancock's filly was brought up, Galbreath said matter-of-factly, "I don't think Bull will run her in the Derby when there are all those other opportunities."
Nobody knows whether Moccasin will run in the Kentucky Derby—including Bull Hancock himself. Bull is a practical man, as well as a genius with horses. But he is also a Kentuckian, and Kentuckians know that there is only one Derby. Hancock's Claiborne Farm, in Paris, Ky., has been the most successful stud farm for many years. "We've bred some aw fully good mares," says Bull. "Including Delta, Doubledogdare, Misty Morn, High Voltage and Vagrancy, just to name a few. In all honesty, I have to put Moccasin ahead of all of those, and also ahead of any mare I've ever seen."
Last fall, after Moccasin's victory in the Gardenia (just before she bucked her shins and skipped The Garden State), Bull Hancock had a few things to say about fillies racing colts. "Except at the end of a season, when there is nothing ahead but a long rest, I'm against it. No matter how great Moccasin may be next spring I would not point her for the Kentucky Derby. I honestly believe she might be able to beat the best colts, but in getting her ready for this tough race early in May we might easily be jeopardizing her future. She has a great series of filly races to aim at, and if she went in the Derby she might never be the same racemare again. In other words, I'm against sending her against colts in May, but if she holds her current form I would definitely plan to see her against colts later in the season."
That was in November at Garden State. In January, at Hialeah, with the Derby only four months away, Hancock was having second thoughts: "I'm a Kentuckian, you know, and I'd rather win the Kentucky Derby than all the rest of the races in the world put together. So, if I really thought that Moccasin had the best chance to win the Derby, it's possible that I might give her a shot at it. If she won it I wouldn't care if she never won another race in her career."
With only a month to go, Bull Hancock was still pondering the question last week. He knew that Buckpasser would be missing at Churchill Downs and that the two best colts in California this winter, Boldnesian and Saber Mountain, would also skip the trip to Louisville. He knew the results of every major 3-year-old race in America this year and had received reports on how every Derby candidate was training. Was he ready to decide? "The key to what we'll do with Moccasin is that we'll watch Graustark," said Hancock at his farm. "Everything tells me not to run. If Graustark comes up to the Derby like I think he will, we won't run. But if he stumbles along the way, we're in a position to move. There is a rule of thumb, you know—if a colt is able to work a mile in 1:40 by April 1 he'll be able to run a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. Well, our filly is ready to do this. Last week she worked a mile at Hialeah in 1:41[2/5] and all we can do now is keep on training her and watch the rest of them—but especially Graustark."
As he prepares to wait out the month of April at Claiborne Farm, Bull Hancock is looking forward to Moccasin's first start (on the same card as Graustark but in a different race) this Saturday at Keeneland. Bull remembers the fate of other fillies in the Kentucky Derby. Of 1,005 starters in 91 Derbies, only 29 have been fillies. Just one, Regret, won—in 1915. But all this form, past and present, may be thrown out when Hancock reminds himself, "I'm a Kentuckian."