Even before the heralded first meeting between Graustark and Abe's Hope in Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes, the 92nd Kentucky Derby field picked up another half a dozen starters from three areas last week. Two or three of them are legitimate contenders.
Kauai King, Mike Ford's Native Dancer colt, was at his best in the mud at Bowie when he won the $100,000 Governor's Gold Cup. In taking his sixth victory in eight starts this year—commendable consistency in a year of wild inconsistency among the 3-year-olds—Kauai King skipped the mile and a sixteenth in 1:44. Obviously, if it rains in Louisville on May 7 the off track will not bother him one bit. This is an asset that few other Derby hopefuls can boast of. As he announced plans to ship Kauai King to Kentucky after watching his three-length victory over Stupendous (now definitely out of the Derby), Ford said, "He's as ready for Graustark right now as he'll ever be."
The third horse in the Gold Cup, Richard D. Bokum II's Quinta, was beaten 12 lengths, but Bokum is the sort who wants to see his blue-and-white silks at Churchill Downs at least once in his lifetime. Says Trainer Bernie Bond of Quinta, "Yes, he goes in the Derby, no matter what. That's what the boss wants, and that's what we're going to do."
If there were no surprises at Bowie, they turned up en masse at Aqueduct in the 42nd running of the mile-and-an-eighth Wood Memorial. Most of the 53,764 players and a considerable number of the experts figured the winner would be Ogden Phipps's Impressive or the Ethel Jacobs entry of Exhibitionist and Understanding. What happened was that Impressive ran a dandy seven furlongs, his best distance, and then stopped dead to finish last in the 11-horse field. Understanding never really got untracked and was next-to-last, and Exhibitionist floundered home a well-beaten fifth.
The winner was Reginald Webster's 9-to-1 shot Amberoid, who was 10th on the backstretch and then flew around his field to beat Ada Rice's Advocator by two lengths. Another nose back was King Ranch's Buffle. The time, on a fast track, was 1:49[3/5], which isn't bad, considering that Amberoid has yet to be mentioned in the same breath with several horses who ran their winning Woods in slower times, namely, Admiral's Voyage, Globemaster, Jewel's Reward. Even Nashua and Native Dancer were slower. Trainer Lucien Laurin is shipping Amberoid to Kentucky this week, and his next start will be in the Derby itself. Speaking of Jockey Bill Boland, Laurin said, "This is the first time Amberoid has been perfectly ridden. He just doesn't want to run the first part of it." Amberoid has a habit of pulling himself up when he gets on the lead. In the Derby he may not be bothered by that problem.
Advocator, although he is winless in seven races this year, will also ship to the Derby, if for no other reason than that Mrs. Rice also owns Lucky Debonair and therefore might be called the defending champion. I thought Buffle, who got into a traffic jam in the stretch, was the best horse in the race and should improve the most. I'm glad that his owner, Bob Kleberg, and his trainer, Max Hirsch, are going to give him a chance at the Derby. They may be very glad they did.
Fleet Shoe, the favorite who finished fifth after he was slow to settle into stride in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, is another probable Derby starter. Surprisingly, Tragniew and Postage, who finished a nose apart at the wire, are not going, despite the fact that Tragniew's winning time of 1:47 2/5 was the fastest nine furlongs by any 3-year-old this year.