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BOO MADE A BOO-BOO
Pete Axtheim
May 23, 1966
When Graustark, the heaviest Kentucky Derby favorite in years, broke down before the race, a storm of censure broke about the head of his trainer, Boo Gentry (right). The racing writer of the 'New York Herald Tribune,' who was a witness to most of the events in the unfolding drama, here sheds startling light on the controversy
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May 23, 1966

Boo Made A Boo-boo

When Graustark, the heaviest Kentucky Derby favorite in years, broke down before the race, a storm of censure broke about the head of his trainer, Boo Gentry (right). The racing writer of the 'New York Herald Tribune,' who was a witness to most of the events in the unfolding drama, here sheds startling light on the controversy

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Unfortunately, the track was sloppy the day before the Blue Grass. Gentry ignored the condition, since the decision had been made to enter Graustark in the race. He sent the colt out for a three-eighths-of-a-mile work. "If this was a cheap horse," Gentry repeated several times during this period, "I'd treat him different. But he's so great, he has to get special treatment."

Trainers of cheaper horses winced at the remark. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," said Phil Johnson, whose string of cheap claimers earned over $250,000 last year. "If I ever treated my horses the way that guy is treating Graustark, I'd lose all my owners in a week."

Other horsemen shared Johnson's feelings, and the training of Graustark continued to be the major topic of conversation in stables everywhere. "It's a shame," said Lucien Laurin, "to see what happened to him. All of us make bad decisions. But the one thing you've got to have when you train a good horse is patience."

"You've got to understand Boo's position," insisted Galbreath. "There wasn't an hour of the day that somebody didn't have some angle to bother him with. I'm not trying to make excuses for anybody. But it was his first experience with this kind of public pressure."

Graustark's last workout for the Blue Grass was three-eighths of a mile in 33 4/5 seconds. It seemed an astonishingly fast prep for a distance race, especially on a slippery track. And Graustark came back lame. Gentry showed signs of panic. He blamed the injury on Blacksmith Hillock, who had shod 10 Derby winners. "That blacksmith," said Gentry, "must've drove a nail in wrong." He did not say why he had failed to notice the misplaced nail in the five days between the shoeing and the workout.

Despite the soreness Gentry announced that Graustark would still run in the Blue Grass. "It's a gamble," he admitted. "But I feel he needs this race at a mile and an eighth to be fit for the Derby."

This was the most difficult and controversial of a long series of decisions. And it was Boo Gentry's decision. "He trained the horse," said Galbreath. "I've always felt that it is presumptuous to hire a trainer and then try to do it yourself."

So Gentry gambled his multi-million-dollar horse in order to make the $125,000 Kentucky Derby. He lost. Graustark opened a wide lead on the backstretch of the sloppy Keeneland track. Then something went wrong. Braulio Baeza, the most adroit of riders, sensed it immediately and tried to straighten out Graustark. "But the rest of the way," Baeza said, "I could feel him trying to bear out." His long lead vanished, and Abe's Hope pulled ahead by half a length. When Graustark saw the other colt in front, he fought back. His mighty stride was shorter now, and every step was painful. But he inched closer to Abe's Hope. At the wire Graustark lost by a nose. It was his only defeat, but it was also his most remarkable effort. He had suffered a fractured coffin bone in his left front hoof.

Graustark was withdrawn from the Derby. A few days later he was retired from racing. When he was healthy enough to be put in a van, he was shipped to the farm in Lexington. Nobody will ever know if he could have been a super-horse. In any case he will certainly be one of the highest-priced stallions, and his stud career will be supervised by Boo's uncle, Olin Gentry.

Boo Gentry returned to New York to handle the other Darby Dan horses. Last Friday morning, I stopped at his barn. He looked up from the legs of a horse he was massaging. "What the hell do you want now?" he said. "Haven't you reporters done enough to me? I got nothing to say, and if I did have I wouldn't tell you."

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