Hialeah may be having its share of troubles these days, but there are at least two horses on the grounds capable of administering their own remedy for some of the disappointing crowds. Last Saturday, for example, by way of proving that a genuine star can still draw people, Forego turned in a phenomenal performance as he became the first horse in 38 runnings of the 1�-mile Widener Handicap to carry 131 pounds to victory. The largest Hialeah attendance in four years, 24,890, turned out to witness the event, and it seemed like old times again as the swells and punters alike rose en masse to give 1974's Horse of the Year a loud and richly deserved ovation.
Three days earlier, hidden by the obscurity of a ridiculous 12:25 post time, last season's unbeaten 2-year-old champion, Foolish Pleasure, easily won a three-horse exhibition race in near track-record time for his eighth triumph in a row. Foolish Pleasure is a strong future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and he gave evidence that if Forego is the horse of the moment, he could become racing's next big hero.
There is no question now that the 5-year-old Forego ranks among the all-time stars of the handicap division. A year ago, on the road to his championship, the enormous gelding won the Widener under 129 pounds and finished the season with victories in the 1�-mile Woodward, the seven-furlong Vosburgh and the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, in all of which he was topweighted. He led off his 1975 campaign with a victory in the nine-furlong Seminole Handicap, carrying 129 pounds, but the challenge of the longer Widener, under 131, was something else. Back in 1938, the winter after he captured the Triple Crown, War Admiral won the Widener carrying 130 pounds. But 10 years later Armed and Assault, both burdened with 130, finished fourth and fifth behind El Mono (112). In 1950 Coaltown, with 132 pounds, could do no better than fifth to Royal Governor (118). Later on, Crafty Admiral and Kelso failed under 131.
Only Armed and Yorky had ever managed to win consecutive Wideners before Forego joined the club, and among the 24 favorites who had failed to win in 37 previous runnings were Assault, Kelso, Coaltown, Carry Back, Iron Liege, Summer Tan and Stagehand. Obviously, Forego is something special.
Sherrill Ward, who trains him for Owner Martha Gerry, skillfully manages to keep the body on this big brute (he stands only a quarter of an inch shy of 17 hands and weighs almost 1,200 pounds). Moreover, Ward has been able to send Forego to the starting gate with pure speed when needed, as in his triumph in the Vosburgh, and bring him right back to his typical come-from-behind style for the longer Gold Cup and the Widener.
The one thing Forego does not like is an off track, such as the slop in which he lost the 1974 Marlboro Cup to Big Spruce. So on Widener day, as the clouds gathered in late afternoon, Ward spoke wryly of having done a "no rain" dance back at his barn. Whatever kind of dance he did, it must have worked, for the downpour held off until a half hour after the big attraction.
In the paddock before the race Ward told Jockey Heliodoro Gustines just to stay out of trouble. Gustines did so by taking back and going into the first turn dead last. "I didn't mind that," Ward said later. "It takes time to get a big horse carrying all that weight into high gear. I wasn't particularly worried." But Gustines was, for a moment or two, anyway. "He was acting sluggish," Gustines said, "and I didn't think he'd be in the money. He didn't start running until the 3/16ths pole. Then he won easy."
Well, maybe not easy. For a few nervous seconds the 7-to-10 favorite did not look like a shoo-in. But he moved steadily, from fifth on the backstretch to fourth on the final turn, and overtook Lord Rebeau as they came to the eighth pole. The 50-to-1 outsider Hat Full, to whom the winner was giving 20 pounds, made a strong run at him in the final furlong, but at the wire it was Forego by a length and a quarter. Gold and Myrrh was third, followed by Lord Rebeau, Group Plan, Mr. Door, Sharp Gary, Outdoors and Neapolitan Way, Forego's time was a commendable 2:01[4/5].
With his record now two-for-two in 1975, Forego may have a few problems ahead of him, not so much with his opposition on the track as with the gentlemen who sit behind the racing secretaries' desks and assign weights in handicaps. Their ideal is to weight every horse so that all reach the wire in a photo finish. As he keeps winning and his opposition keeps losing, Forego will get more weight on and the others will get more weight off. By autumn they may be suggesting that Forego try a few jumps on the way or go around twice while the others go once. Don't bet he wouldn't be able to handle that, too.
But Forego really has nothing more to prove to anyone. Foolish Pleasure, despite his unblemished record, does, and all indications are that he will, beginning with the Flamingo next week. His exhibition win last week was at seven furlongs and he made a mockery of the race, beating Ambassador's Image by 4� lengths with Circle Home another half-length back. Foolish Pleasure covered the sprint distance in 1:21[2/5], which was eye-popping enough, but, even more impressively, he worked on out the full mile in a superb 1:34[1/5]. When he won the one-mile Champagne at Belmont last fall his time was 1:36.