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The Thoroughbred rites of spring, which include the Triple Crown, often bear little resemblance to what has preceded them at Hialeah and Santa Anita. Not too much can be learned from winter's six-and seven-furlong sprints that bears on a colt's potential to go a distance, but one must always seek—and occasionally one is rewarded for the effort.
Next week, estimates can be made of such youngsters as Majestic Prince, Mr. Joe F. and Fleet Allied as they compete in the San Vicente in California, but now we have the evidence of Hialeah's first 3-year-old stakes, the Hibiscus. No one was surprised when Mrs. Dorothy Rigney's Fast Hilarious rolled to an easy three-length victory over 11 other sprinters. His time for the six furlongs was a lightning 1:09 2/5; in 33 previous runnings of this early prep for the Flamingo only that real speedball, Ridan, made it home faster. Purchased a year ago for a bargain $9,500, Florida-bred Fast Hilarious has the sort of speed that can earn his stable a lot of money if his people do not get overly ambitious with him. True, he has won at a distance over lesser lights but, if he takes after his sire, Hilarious, who won 20 of 113 lifetime starts, his future should be in the sprints, not the classics.
Of those who finished behind Fast Hilarious last week, only Christopher Chenery's Virginia Delegate had any excuse. He stumbled badly coming out of the gate but got to running respectably at the finish, where he was sixth. There are five Phipps horses with 3-year-old aspirations, but Trainer Eddie Neloy ran only The Heir, and he was a big disappointment in coming home eighth.
Nonetheless, one turns to the Phipps stable these days to see where the power is. In addition to The Heir, Neloy has King Emperor, Reviewer, King of the Castle and the Garden State winner Beau Brummel. "Beau is really our hope," says Neloy of the bay son of Round Table and the Nasrullah mare So Chic. He is expected to make his first winter start in the Feb. 5 Bahamas at seven, furlongs. "Beau Brummel showed us nothing at all until last July," Neloy adds. "But he improved so much after that, that we feel he is as good as any of them." King Emperor hasn't put on weight as he should have and won't start for a while, and Reviewer, who had some shin trouble but is all right now, will probably miss the Flamingo, also.
King of the Castle trains well, but until last Saturday he was unwilling to do his best work in the afternoon. Making his first start of the year, he whipped 11 rivals with a seven-furlong time of 1:23 3/5. Braulio Baeza brought him from next to last and from 14 lengths back, and he covered the last furlong in 11 4/5 to win, drawing away by three lengths over another good runner, Pin Oak Stable's Native Dancer colt Kanumera. "I liked what I saw," said Neloy, "and I think he'll like a distance."
Steve Wilson's Top Knight, last year's 2-year-old champion, though the beaten favorite in the Garden State, is also training at Hialeah. There is a suspicion he has tendon trouble. He is aiming for the Flamingo on March 4 but may need a little luck to get there. A promising colt who will skip the Flamingo but try for the March 29 Florida Derby at Gulfstream is E. P. Taylor's unbeaten Viceregal. This son of Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer has won eight straight, including seven stakes. Even though all these victories took place in Canada—against horses in a slightly different league from Hialeah's—the record is impressive.
Two colts steaming along with no apparent troubles are owned by Bull Hancock's Claiborne Farm. One is named Dike, the other Drone. Hancock himself fancies Dike, while his Trainer Lucien Laurin likes Drone. Dike is by the French stallion Herbager and is out of that fine race mare Delta, a daughter of Nasrullah. After winning the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October, Dike ran second to King Emperor in the Pimlico-Laurel Futurity, beaten only a head. Drone, a son of Sir Gaylord and the Tom Fool mare Cap and Bells, never started as a 2-year-old but broke his maiden at Hialeah on the first day of the meeting, winning at six furlongs by five lengths in the good time of 1:10 [1/5]. Dike is heading for the Flamingo via the Bahamas and the Everglades on Feb. 19, while Drone will be nursed along a bit more cautiously.
Two other Hialeah-based trainers with optimistic smiles on their faces are Frank A. (Downey) Bonsai, who has taken over the Cain Hoy Stable of Captain Harry F. Guggenheim, and Elliott Burch of Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stables. After winning earlier in the week with Never Bow (by Never Bend), Bonsal made it two straight at the meeting for Ack Ack, a bay son of Battle Joined. On Saturday Ack Ack turned in a winning seven furlongs in 1:22[3/5], beating Distinctive by three lengths. Another three lengths back was Burch's Arts and Letters, a chestnut Ribot colt who was making his first start since finishing fourth behind King Emperor and Dike in the Pimlico-Laurel Futurity. Both Never Bow and Ack Ack look like real runners, while Arts and Letters did well enough to suggest he will improve vastly with seasoning.
In the Futurity, Burch felt that Arts and Letters would have done better had the jockey not made his move too soon. It is not too soon any longer. Now is the time for all these horses to make a move of some sort.