A ROMANTIC TALE WITH AN UNHAPPY ENDING
Like most young ladies of her generation, Miss Mabel Galbreath thrived on the romantic novels of George Barr McCutcheon. And of all the popular writer's works, her favorite was a "story of love behind the throne" in a mythical central European kingdom known as Graustark. McCutcheon produced this heartthrobber in 1901, and it fascinated the older sister of Ohio millionaire John Galbreath. The capital of Graustark was the city of Edelweiss, and through the novel's pages Princess Yetive, the rightful ruler who occasionally passed herself off as Sophia Guggenslocker, came into contact—and sometimes conflict—with such characters as Mr. Anguish, the Prince of Axplain, the Duke of Mizrox, Baron Dangloss, a certain Sitsky and, of course, the Countess Dagmar. In the last chapter, naturally, Princess Yetive, aided by our hero, Grenfall Lorry, set things right in Graustark, and the two of them lived happily ever after. Sixty-three years later, having forgotten not a word of the novel, Mabel Galbreath, then 78 and living in an apartment in Columbus, Ohio, went to her brother with a belated pitch for George Barr McCutcheon. "John," she pleaded, "won't you ever name a horse the way I ask you to?"
"Of course I will," replied the owner of Darby Dan Farm as he ran his finger down the list of the 1963 crop, then yearlings. "This one," said Mabel Galbreath, pointing to the pedigree of a chestnut colt by Ribot out of the mare Flower Bowl. "This one—I'd be very pleased if you would name him Graustark."
Until a few weeks ago it appeared quite likely that Mabel Galbreath's choice would experience the same sort of ultimate glory—in his case, by winning the 92nd Kentucky Derby—as Princess Yetive had more than half a century ago in the Alpine wonderland of Graustark. But, suddenly, things began to go wrong with the most famous 3-year-old colt in America.
A Derby without Graustark will not bring about either a blackout or general mourning in Louisville. But it will mean that for the first time in memory the first 11 horses on the Experimental Free Handicap (the annual list of the previous season's 2-year-olds weighted according to their classic potential) will not start at Churchill Downs. Among the missing, besides Graustark, will be Buckpasser, Coursing, Fathers Image and Prince Saim, as well as the two leading fillies of the division in 1965, Moccasin and Priceless Gem. Also on the sidelines will be Boldnesian, Saber Mountain and Buffle, leaving such a mixed bag of hopeful also-rans and honest contenders that the classic could draw as many as 18 and provide the kind of traffic jam one expects only on a fogbound San Diego freeway.
Owners of thoroughbred racehorses, whether well-bred, expensively produced and carrying spotless records, or undeserving misfits who belong on the half-mile circuit, want to see their silks in the Derby. This is the most glamorous, gripping, one-day attraction in American sport and, if there is a chance to be in on the act, few horsemen can resist it. Curiously, when the prospective field draws three or four standouts, that usually is sufficient to scare off the humpty-dumpties—as was the case in 1957. But when there is only one, he does not frighten off the opposition, for everyone knows that if something goes wrong with the best horse that gives all the survivors a chance. And the best horse has been withdrawn before: a linear fracture knocked out Sir Gaylord 48 hours before the 1962 Derby, a stone bruise finished Gen. Duke at scratch time on Derby Day in 1957, and in 1931 the great Equipoise was pulled out during the running of the Derby Day card when it was discovered he had a quarter crack.
The growing uncertainty about Graustark, after a succession of training interruptions, brought a large invasion of pretenders to the crown to Louisville even before he was withdrawn. And with good reason. After running sensationally at Arlington Park three times last year, Graustark was fired for shin splints and given a long rest. His return to action this winter at Hialeah was held up by a bruise on his left hind heel that forced him to skip the Flamingo and the Florida Derby—both at the mile-and-an-eighth distance that Derby contenders are almost obliged to tackle in these days of arduous winter racing.
Last week trouble struck again, this time decisively. Training at Keeneland for his first effort over a distance in the mile-and-an-eighth Blue Grass Stakes—he had never gone over seven furlongs before—Graustark came up with a minor infection in the hoof of his left front foot. It apparently was cleared up overnight, and he went in the Blue Grass. On a track so sloppy and gritty that he scraped the backs of all four ankles, he was beaten a nose by Abe's Hope. The next day infection set in again, and X rays revealed he had broken a bone in the left front foot and would not run in the Derby—or in any other race, ever.
Graustark's stable will be criticized for running him at Keeneland on an off track. Before the race, Galbreath defended this action: "We have to go in a mile-and-a-furlong race to test him, and it is now or never." A few minutes later, as the rain whipped down on a stunned Keeneland audience, he added, "We thought he was fit and he wasn't." Trainer Loyd Gentry, in a way, agreed. "It was the first time he'd had to go all out, and he came back tired as hell. When Abe's Hope got by him in the stretch, Graustark came on again. He did the last eighth in 12[1/5] seconds and showed he had real guts. Still, I'll tell you, there's nothing like being seasoned. And I mean seasoned."
About the time that Gentry was offering this explanation and trying to believe it himself, there were other things being said about Graustark. A veteran Kentucky horseman said gloomily, "There's no way a horse this strong and fast can last on the tracks we have today. When he breaks down, everything's going to go. Horses like Graustark virtually kick themselves to pieces. Count Fleet was so fast that after he won the Belmont by 25 lengths he was finished for good. It was his last race." And in New York a knowledgeable bookmaker was saying to a friend, "Graustark may have been made one of the greatest false favorites in Derby history. Most other Derby favorites raced themselves into condition by going a mile and a sixteenth or nine furlongs during the spring and winter. This colt didn't. I don't care who a trainer is, there is no substitute for seasoning a horse for a mile and a quarter by racing competition. Workouts, no matter how brilliant, won't do it alone."