With one sustained, surging drive that took him from last place to victory at Gulfstream Park last Saturday, a colt named Prince Thou Art completely rewrote the script for the upcoming Kentucky Derby. Until then the anticipated plot had been Foolish Pleasure against the world. Unbeaten in nine races as a 2- and 3-year-old, Foolish Pleasure had been looked upon by some as another Secretariat, for whom a Triple Crown would be routine, but in the Florida Derby he finished in the wake of the Prince, nearly 3� lengths back in third place, behind the winner and his Darby Dan stablemate, Sylvan Place.
And to complicate the 3-year-old picture further, in California a lightly raced colt named Avatar, a 5-to-1 fourth choice in a field of seven, scored an upset victory in the Santa Anita Derby.
Since both these races are harbingers of the big D in Kentucky, the upsets certainly caught the keen attention of the fringe owners, those hoping to hit with the eternal million-to-one shot. Instead of the Derby being a tight little race this year, with a few ambitious colts challenging the big horse, it appears now that the newly imposed limit of 20 entries for that classic will be tested.
The defeat of Foolish Pleasure was particularly startling, what with both the horses in John Galbreath's Darby Dan entry outrunning the odds-on favorite by decisive margins.
Lou Rondinello, who trains the Galbreath stable, denied that there had been a two-horse strategy in the race. "We thought both horses had a chance to win," he said. "We did not send Sylvan Place out as a rabbit to take away Foolish Pleasure's burst of speed. Sylvan Place went at him at the half-mile pole and ran by him. But that's the way he runs."
Jean Cruguet, who rode Sylvan Place, told a different story. "I sacrificed my horse a little bit in this race," he said. "I was supposed to keep my eye on Foolish Pleasure and I moved earlier than I wanted to. If I hadn't used him up early, we might have been head to head with Prince Thou Art at the wire. I could have been closer."
Braulio Baeza, up on Prince Thou Art, rode a lovely race, rating his mount perfectly. He came by the grandstand the first time a contented last and stayed there until the far turn, when he asked the handsome dark brown horse for a run and got it.
"He changed leads on the turn and slid out toward the middle of the track," Baeza said, "but he didn't really lose any ground. He changed leads again in the stretch run, but he did it easy and he still didn't lose any ground. He's a kind horse, easy to ride and easy to manage. I thought he was a little tired at the finish, but all the other horses were more tired than he was."
"He's a docile horse," said Rondinello. "That's why you can keep him at the back of the pack. He doesn't mind. Then when you ask him for the burst, he'll give it to you if he has it. If he hasn't, he'll stay at the back. Today he had it."
All winter Rondinello has been working with Prince Thou Art to develop his ability to run over a distance, and the horse has responded even better than he had expected.