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The two most seasoned colts who may go off as favorites in this Derby are an Illinois-bred and a Maryland-bred named, respectively, Abe's Hope and Kauai King. Not much was heard from either last year, but both now appear to be legitimate contenders and should relish going a testing distance.
Abe's Hope is the hard-luck horse of this year's Florida season. He was beaten a skinny nose by Buckpasser in the betless "Chicken Flamingo" after leading at the sixteenth pole, and a month later he won the Florida Derby only to lose it on a disqualification. In four races at a mile and an eighth he has never finished worse than third, and in his most recent effort he beat Graustark a nose after being seven lengths behind on the backstretch. Some experts believe his Blue Grass victory was the result of Graustark's lack of seasoning and an over-confident ride by Braulio Baeza on the favorite. Others assume Abe's Hope beat an ailing horse. But it is also true that Abe's Hope is a running little fool crammed with courage.
Bred by Illinois Racing Commissioner William S. Miller, Abe's Hope is a son of Miller's Better Bee who, in his day, won a lot of stakes around Chicago, including three at nine furlongs, and also posted a victory over Round Table. Last summer Miller, in a package deal, sold three colts and a filly (all by Better Bee) to Chicago Pontiac Dealer Joseph Bartell, who had been in racing about six years without achieving any shattering success. A few months later Bartell, who is 62, took in as his partner 36-year-old Robert Byfield, who is in the hotel-management business in Chicago. Next to acquiring Abe's Hope, the best thing the partners have going for them in their Pontiac-inspired Grand Prix Stable is Trainer Del Carroll, a truly fine horseman who also happens to be one of 10 eight-goal polo players in America.
Abe's Hope was named for a groom, Vele (Abe) BoJinoff, whose hope it was before he died of cancer last year that the colt he rubbed and cared for so faithfully would one day win the Kentucky Derby. The horse has a distinct personality in addition to a courageous way of running. As a yearling on the farm he would stretch out in his stall and snore so loudly that the stable hands called him Rip van Winkle. They had to kick him to get him up. But he is as well-balanced as one of Carroll's polo ponies and just as manageable.
Before sending Abe's Hope out against Graustark last week, Carroll told Jockey Bill Shoemaker, "We're not supposed to beat Graustark, and it's no disgrace to lose." When Shoe came back a winner, with cakes of mud hiding his broad smile, he said, "He's a little horse who did a big job. Now take him home, feed him well and give him some rest, because he's got a big job to do next week." Co-owner Byfield, guzzling champagne, added, "I never even thought I'd own a horse until six months ago."
Just six years ago Omaha Industrialist Mike Ford entered the horse business. Ford is a handsome, crew-cut ex-marine who, as a Pfc. in the 2nd Division, fought in the invasion of Saipan and Tinian. With his father and his uncle, Ford invented and manufactured freight-car doors of corrugated-board-and-steel strapping after the war. They sold out in 1959 to the International-Stanley Corp., and suddenly Mike Ford had some money to play with. He took on as advisor another young man named Tommy Gentry, whose uncle Loyd trains for Galbreath and whose father, Olin, runs Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm. Tommy Gentry steered Mike Ford into some expensive but eventually profitable purchases: Royal Gunner, $57,000; Umbrella Fella, $17,000; and, finally, Kauai King, $42,000.
Tom's uncle Loyd, then a public trainer, handled all of these horses for Ford and turned Kauai King over to Trainer Henry Forrest last year when he accepted the job with Galbreath. "I remember when I had Graustark and Kauai King together at the training center at St. Lucie [ Fla.]," said Gentry recently. "I knew Graustark was something exceptional right away, but Kauai King was the only colt who could come close to staying with him. Early this year, before any of the 3-year-olds had done anything, I thought Kauai King would be the one all of us would have to beat."
Ford and Forrest have brought Kauai King along carefully. He is a son of Native Dancer out of the Blenheim II mare Sweep In. In eight starts this year (he made only four as a 2-year-old because of bucked shins) he has won six times.
None of the others among the prospective Derby starters are likely to close at short odds. Some have a right to be in the gate on Saturday, while others will just clutter up the first desperation run and interfere with the more worthy.
Stupendous, Mrs. Henry C. Phipps's son of Bold Ruler, has as much chance as any other colt. He is three for eight on the season but on occasion does some real running. He was second to Buck-passer in the Everglades and later won the one-mile Gotham. On the other hand, Stupendous was defeated by Blue Skyer, hardly a world-beater, in the Louisiana Derby and, with no excuse, lost to Kauai King at Bowie. Williamston Kid, the son of Piet, owned by Detroiters Paul Ternes and Jim Bartlett, won the Florida Derby after the disqualification of Abe's Hope. But that is his only claim to fame. Amberoid, Advocator and Exhibitionist, who finished first, second and fifth respectively in the recent Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, have all had too many chances—and too few successes—against the best horses. Amberoid comes from very far out of it; unless you happen to be the best horse (i.e., Needles, Carry Back), that is risky in a Derby. It is hard to take seriously the appearance of Quinta, Fleet Shoe, Rehabilitate, Sky Guy, Sean E Indian, Dominar and Tragniew.