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These are times that try Kentuckians' souls. It was insult enough that Foolish Pleasure, a horse born and bred 700 miles from God's bluegrass, won the 1975 Kentucky Derby. It is gross insolence that another colt sired by the same stallion standing in the same upstart locality—Williston, Florida , sir—should be the winter book favorite for the Kentucky Derby for 1976. And it is offensive to anyone with julep in his veins that this Florida stallion is the nation's leading sire; not only that, but a son of the venerated Bold Ruler who could become what his daddy was—the top sire for nearly a decade. Who, in short, could turn out to be the best of the Bold Rulers at stud.
To make the matter even more repugnant to Kentuckians, this potent stallion reached the top of the money list with the help of some of the commonest little numbers in horsedom. Until the dam of Foolish Pleasure came along—a decent sort—our sire had no quality mares to help him.
The name of this impertinent animal is What a Pleasure, and he stands at something called Waldemar Farm, whose master is one Tim Sams. Oh, yes, What a Pleasure has another 3-year-old, Whatsyourpleasure, rated only three pounds below the top-weighted Honest Pleasure in the Experimental Free Handicap. Which is to say, two of the top five candidates for classic honors this year are What a Pleasure's sons. No other stallion on earth is so richly represented.
What about a couple of studs whose names are more familiar? Secretariat was syndicated as a stallion early in 1973, before he had run as a 3-year-old, for a record $6.08 million. Had the syndication been delayed until after his Triple Crown, the price would have been $12 million, a figure befitting the finest racing son of the greatest sire in modern-day racing—right, Bold Ruler.
In the summer of '73 Wajima, a colt from the last crop of—you guessed it—Bold Ruler, set a world record for a yearling sold at auction: $600,000. Late last season, after having challenged Forego for Horse of the Year honors, Wajima was syndicated for $7.2 million.
Both horses stand in Lexington, where champion stallions are expected to reside. Secretariat is at Claiborne Farm, where Bold Ruler reigned until his death from cancer in 1971. Wajima is at Spendthrift Farm, Claiborne's foremost rival. The first Secretariats will go to the races in 1977.
"Everybody is looking for and spending all kinds of money for the son of Bold Ruler most likely to carry on the old man's name," observes Joe King, the farm manager at Waldemar. "The thing is, we already have him right here in Williston."
Despite the promise of Secretariat and Wajima, that claim may well prove to be true. What a Pleasure was the No. 1 sire for 1975, with $2,033,021 earned by his sons and daughters. It marked only the second time since 1939 that this honor had eluded the grasp of the bloodstock barons of the bluegrass, and the first time that any stallion other than Bold Ruler had reached the $2 million total while heading the list.
Additionally alarming, from the equine Establishment's point of view, are these facts: What a Pleasure is young, having just turned 11, is likely to remain in Florida, privately owned, despite a $9 million syndication offer, and is a good bet to retain his No. 1 ranking now that he is attracting high-quality mares. To be sure, thoroughbred breeding being an inexact science, What a Pleasure could turn out to be a four-year wonder unable to keep the big money and the big races coming his way. There is a nagging suspicion, however, that his rise to star status among the superstuds is for real.
The late Howard Sams, Tim's father and the man who wangled What a Pleasure for Waldemar, was a loner. He was kicked out of high school in Hyde Park, Ill. for having spent more time working on the school newspaper than on his studies. But before turning 30, he had made history of a sort by offering the country's first double feature at a movie theater he owned in Chicago. Sams eventually made a tidy fortune in the electronics publishing field, branched out to take over the nearly bankrupt Bobbs-Merrill Company in Indianapolis while in his 50s and later sold the publishing house to ITT for a handsome profit.