Graustark stood on a patch of burnt grass outside his stall at Hialeah, turning his head to gaze at the group of admirers that always seemed to gather around him. John Nazareth, an exercise boy, tugged at a leather shank to keep the horse standing still. Two grooms stood alongside Graustark stroking him over and over with soft brushes until his deep chestnut coat shone like polished copper in the sunlight.
John W. Galbreath, the enormously successful industrialist who has spent millions to build up his Darby Dan Farm operations, leaned against a railing and studied the colt that was the pride of his stable. He turned to a friend and sighed, "Doesn't he look just magnificent?"
Graustark certainly did look good on the bright morning of February 1 at Hialeah He had looked almost as impressive a year earlier when Loyd (Boo) Gentry, then the second-string trainer for Darby Dan, sent him out for his first fast workout over the track in St. Lucie, Fla.
But on May 7, 1966, the afternoon of the 92nd Kentucky Derby, Graustark did not look good at all. On what should have been the most rewarding day of his life, the colt was standing in a stall in the Churchill Downs stable area, holding his left front foot slightly off the floor, because it hurt when he tried to put his weight on it. He was scheduled to be shipped from Louisville to Galbreath's farm in Lexington, Ky., but he was still too lame to move. There was a broken bone in his foot.
Graustark had been reduced from a potential champion to a struggling cripple. He had been drilled hard and often under all kinds of conditions. And 10 days before the Derby, he had been the odds-on favorite. Yet on Derby Day, before the year's classic races had even begun, Graustark's career had ended.
As Graustark progressed from 2- to 3-year-old status, talk about his impeccable breeding, grand appearance and brilliant speed was superseded by a different line of comment. The horse was near-perfect, other experts agreed, but the men around him were something less. He became the subject of hot though private controversy. Part of it involved his grueling training program; part of it the way he was handled after two injuries. There was not much room for debate about a third, which he suffered in the Blue Grass Stakes before the Derby. It finished him.
Graustark is a son of Ribot, the unbeaten European champion, out of Flower Bowl, a classics-winning mare who also produced the champion filly Bowl of Flowers. He has bloodlines that few Thoroughbred horses can match. And for the first seven races of his career, he had speed that none of his opponents could approach.
He retires as just another well-bred horse who never got a chance to fulfill his promise. He has a record of seven wins and only one narrow defeat—suffered in a race run while his foot was injured. But it is a record that, unfortunately, includes only two stakes victories, and it shows no victories in a race longer than seven-eighths of a mile.
It is fashionable to blame such misfortune on modern racing economics, which encourages the overracing of young horses on hard, fast tracks. But Graustark wasn't overraced, although many feel he was overtrained. And the hard slippery track, at Keeneland, on which he suffered his last two injuries could have been avoided if his trainer and owner had so desired. (Said John Galbreath at the time: "We have to go in a mile-and-a-furlong race to test him, and it is now or never.")
When the chestnut colt was foaled at the Darby Dan Farm in the spring of 1963, the Galbreath racing enterprises were at a peak of success. Chateaugay won the Derby and the Belmont Stakes that spring. Primonetta and Bramalea had been leading fillies of the previous season. Galbreath's astute judgment and huge investments (he paid $1,350,000 in 1959 to lease the stallion Ribot for five years) were being rewarded.