'I FIGURED IT WAS MY YEAR. I HAD A HUNCH'
Overtones of unpredictability began to set the mood of the Kentucky Derby weeks before the 93rd running last Saturday. On Derby Day, as mist and rain swept in to chill and dampen the somewhat nervous throng, the atmosphere was one of tingly apprehension instead of traditional festivity.
At first there had been considerable doubt about which horses would even get to Churchill Downs, after an unusual run of bad spring racing weather and untimely injuries and illnesses in the camps of many of the winter favorites. Then came the threat of riot and disruption of the race by civil rights organizations engaged in an all-out campaign to force open-housing legislation in the city of Louisville. Early in the week five youths staged a mild preview of what might happen on Saturday. They ran out on the track in front of a field of horses. When they saw that none of the jockeys were making any effort to pull up or avoid hitting them, they climbed the infield fence and got away just in time to avoid serious accidents. On Derby Day the Rev. Martin Luther King called a press conference at the Episcopal Church of Our Merciful Saviour and urged that the demonstrations be called off. "We are not interested in creating a riot," he said.
Still, the threat of trouble hung in the air, and state, city and Churchill Downs officials decided not to take chances. A security force of about 2,500 was marshaled, including National Guardsmen armed with three-foot riot sticks, dozens of extra state and city police and racetrack guards. They took un positions on and off the track. The searching eyes of the law seemed to be everywhere, even at the clubhouse gate, where the wife of a member of the Kentucky State Racing Commission was looked over by an officer on the bomb detail. No, she assured him as he zeroed in on her foil-wrapped picnic box, it only contained fried chicken and beaten-biscuit ham sandwiches. All the uniforms and precautions could not help but transform the gayest occasion in American racing into something less cheery.
Fortunately, the same cannot be said for the race itself. An upset is more than possible whenever 14 horses go a mile and a quarter for the first time in their young careers and the race is prejudged to be a contest among just three of them. But seldom has there been a more dramatic upset than the one that occurred at Louisville. Mr. and Mrs. John W. Galbreath's second-string colt, Proud Clarion, roared around the leaders on the turn for home to win by a length over another outsider named Barbs Delight. The longest-priced winner since Gallahadion upset odds-on favorite Bimelech in 1940, Proud Clarion came bursting home as a 30-to-1 shot ($62.20), totally demolishing the favored Damascus, who was third; Successor, who was sixth; and the pride of California, Ruken, who staggered home eighth.
It was a Derby loaded with dramatics, and a sentimentally popular one for those racing fans who have followed the fortunes and misfortunes of the Gal-breaths' Darby Dan Farm and its trainer, Loyd (Boo) Gentry. It was popular, too, among the thousands who for years have regarded 31-year-old Oklahoma-born Jockey Bobby Ussery as one of the premier riders in the country. Ussery was to have had the Derby mount on Hirsch Jacobs' winter star, Reflected Glory, who missed the whole show because of a sore shin. Normally Darby Dan's fawn-and-brown silks are worn by Braulio Baeza, who has been Galbreath's contract rider for three years. But, six days before this Derby, Baeza's contract expired, and by mutual consent it was not renewed. "We had no hard feelings about it," said Gal-breath. "Quite the contrary. We both knew that Darby Dan wasn't running outstanding stock and that Braulio was having his pick of all those good Phipps horses. So it was only natural that he should want to free-lance. I wished him nothing but the best of luck and figured he had a whale of a shot at this Derby on the Phippses' Successor."
Three days later neither Galbreath nor Gentry had settled on a jockey for Proud Clarion, a son of the sensational young stallion Hail to Reason. Then Galbreath suddenly remembered something and phoned his trainer. "Loyd," he said, "how about getting Ussery?" On Thursday morning the arrangements were completed, and on Derby Day John Galbreath told Bobby Ussery what it was that he had remembered: "If you ride Proud Clarion like you rode Bramalea for me to beat Cicada in the Coaching Club Oaks of 1962, I think you've got a chance in this Derby."
Ussery, who had never so much as galloped Proud Clarion before, figured that he had a Derby coming to him anyway. "I might have won it with Bally Ache in 1960, but we finished second," he said. "Then I thought I'd win it this year with Reflected Glory. When that didn't work out, I still figured—just a hunch, I guess—that it was my year, no matter what horse I rode. I had a real hunch."
Hunch or no hunch, Bobby Ussery's ride at Churchill Downs last week was one of the best in Derby history. Proud Clarion had never won a stakes race—he had won only three of eight lifetime starts—and he still must prove that he is the champion of the 3-year-old division. But no future results can detract from the magnificent performance of this young man and his young horse last week. It was a case of jockey and colt triumphantly combining their individual talents to maximum effect.
Derby Week is a hectic time, especially for trainers, who are expected to spend their mornings answering the prodding questions of turf writers and their evenings feasting on the banquet circuit. Some enjoy the routine, while others find it difficult to open their lives to a small army of sleepy-eyed guys with notebooks who wander casually from barn to barn competing with another small army of bright-blazered troops representing the TV industry. Among those who do not seem to be bothered by the intrusion of the working press are Eddie Neloy, Hirsch Jacobs, Clyde Turk and Frank Childs. Neloy could be a good straight man for Joe E. Lewis if he felt like trying it, and everything about Successor was available for the asking. For instance, Eddie said flatly, "If the Blue Grass Stakes [in which Successor was fourth] had been run in New York instead of at Keeneland we wouldn't have bothered to ship down to the Derby at all. But here we are in Kentucky, so we'll run."