American horsemen, usually reluctant to agree on any aspect of their profession, have at least one common conviction: that the flat mile for a Thoroughbred, somewhat like the 440-yard dash for a track man, is the toughest race on any card. It lies between the run-of-the-mill six-furlong sprints and the classic tests of a mile and a quarter and up, in which no horse can be expected to go all out all the way.
A top miler must be an iron horse. Jockey Bill Boland says, "The mile is like no other race, because a horse has no chance for a breather, and he cannot afford to make even one mistake. It is strictly a test of pure speed. From the time the gate opens it is all 'go.' " Trainer Eddie Neloy agrees. "In a mile a speed horse must carry his speed beyond six furlongs," Neloy says. "And if he's a come-from-behind horse he has to stay within striking distance."
Last week, when Neloy showed up in Chicago for the 38th running of the one-mile Arlington Classic (billed all week as the race of the year), he brought with him a perfect combination of teamwork and speed. Before the crowd staggered home in the 90� heat, it had seen one of Neloy's charges, Buckpasser, break the world record by three-fifths of a second after another Neloy-trained colt, Impressive, had softened up the opposition by unofficially cracking two other world marks along the way. Buckpasser's final time of 1:32[3/5] eclipsed the 1:33[1/5] recorded 10 years ago by Swaps at Hollywood Park and since equaled by Intentionally in 1959 at Chicago's Washington Park, by Pia Star at Arlington last summer and, just a week ago at Arlington again, by Hedevar.
Even aside from the astonishing time of this Classic, it really was the race of the year—so far. The eight-horse field was loaded with attractions. One of them, of course, was Mike Ford's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Kauai King. Another was Creme dela Creme, beaten only once in eight lifetime starts (he was withheld from the Triple Crown events). Buckpasser had never met these two before. His only defeat in five starts this year had come in his first outing, when he lost by four and a half lengths over seven furlongs at Hialeah. Who had beaten the former 2-year-old champion, winner of nine of 11 races and $568,096 in 1965? His stable-mate, Impressive, that's who.
Major $100,000 races have a way of creating their own electric atmosphere, and even in Chicago, where champions of all ages have appeared for many years, nothing had approached last week's Arlington Classic in both local and national interest since the late Ben Lindheimer staged the Nashua-Swaps match race in 1955. Now it was Ben's able daughter, Marje Lindheimer Everett, executive vice-president of Arlington, who was putting on the show, and she did it in a style that would have made old Ben proud. Under her orders the Classic, which for years had been run under allowance conditions, was changed to a handicap. Said Marje, "At this time of year in allowance races among 3-year-olds you often find the wrong horse getting weight off. In a handicap, however, horses can be weighted according to their current form. That makes for both a better and truer race." With this in mind, Arlington Handicapper Larry Marsh put 126 pounds on Kauai King, 125 on Buckpasser, 123 on Creme dela Creme and 120 on Impressive.
While there was no audible argument about the weights, the stable area buzzed with rumors. Mike Ford had announced earlier that Kauai King was due for an extended rest after his fourth-place finish in the June 4 Belmont Stakes. Why had he changed his mind and ordered the King made ready for the Classic and a meeting with two such fresh speedsters as Buckpasser and Creme dela Creme?
Ford's trainer, Henry Forrest, was against it, and said so, and then he went off with Jockey Bill Hartack to win the Cornhusker Handicap at Ak-Sar-Ben with Ford's other star, Royal Gunner. That left Ford to answer the question himself. " Kauai King is ready to run, so we'll run him," he said. "I know there's all that speed in there, so this time, instead of trying to lay back, we're going to bounce out pretty good, settle in stride and try to keep Impressive from stealing too much of a lead. I'd like to see us stay close to Creme dela Creme, but we've got to move by about the three-eighths pole."
As it turned out, Trainer Forrest was a better judge of his Derby champion than Owner Ford. On the morning of the race grooms hosed down the King's left foreleg for nearly an hour. In the race itself Kauai was never in the hunt. "He stumbled three times in the first quarter of a mile," said Jockey Don Brumfield, after bringing him home a dead-tired fifth, beaten over four lengths. "I hope I'm wrong about it, but this colt is hurting. He's not right." The next day a dejected Mike Ford confirmed Brumfield's suspicions when he announced Kauai King's immediate retirement because of pulled suspensory ligaments in the left foreleg. It did not make Forrest feel any better to know that his star performer had been injured while racing against his trainer's better judgment. It was also unpleasant news for the people who had just joined in a $2,520,000 syndicate to purchase Kauai King. With the King's racing career over, Ford offered syndicate members a chance to get out. Those who stayed in to participate in Kauai's stud career, Ford said, would get a $10,000 rebate on their original $70,000 per share
If luck was against Ford during the month of June, it sided most definitely with Owner Ogden Phipps, Neloy and Buckpasser. A superbly put-together bay son of Tom Fool from the War Admiral mare Busanda, Buckpasser lost the first start of his career and later The Futurity, to Priceless Gem, last season. This year his trouble had been a tendency to loaf on the lead, and it nearly cost him a victory in the now famous betless "Chicken Flamingo," but he pulled himself together magnificently and nosed out Abe's Hope. Then, in March, while Graustark, Abe's Hope and the rest of the big boys (including Kauai King) were being cranked up for their assault on the Kentucky Derby, Buckpasser suffered a quarter crack on the inside of his right fore coronary band. It could have meant months on the sidelines; it could have meant treatment with the Bane patch, which was successful with Northern Dancer but is not suitable for every variety of quarter crack. After thinking it over for a few weeks, Trainer Neloy decided to take the advice of his harness-racing friend Billy Haughton and try a special type of fiber-glass patch perfected by a trotting trainer-driver named Joe Grasso. Buckpasser was forced to skip all three Triple Crown races (his sire, Tom Fool, also had missed the three yet at the age of 4 became Horse of the Year after winning all 10 of his starts), but the patch worked. On the day of the Belmont, when Neloy was starting Stupendous against Kauai King, he also brought Buckpasser back in a six-furlong allowance, his first race since the March 3rd Flamingo. The colt won so easily that Braulio Baeza jumped off his back and said to Neloy, "Boss, I think we're starting the wrong horse in the Belmont." Baeza may have been right, because two weeks later Buckpasser won the Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park, and Neloy packed him off to Chicago.
Ogden Phipps paced the paddock before the race and remarked, "Buckpasser has never looked so cranky." Then he looked around and added, "Creme dela Creme is the one to beat today." Creme dela Creme's trainer, Ira (Babe) Hanford, was also taking in the scene. "This is going to be fast and furious," he said, "and no matter who wins, it won't be easy." It wasn't.