If ever there was a
solid favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Bold Forbes notwithstanding, it is
Honest Pleasure. Off his past performances, including his smashing victories in
the Flamingo and the Florida Derby, Honest Pleasure looks like what racegoers
call a lock, a shoo-in, a fuzzy. But before you do what racegoers call risk the
family jewels, or bet with both hands, be forewarned. Honest Pleasure has a
The problem is a
strange and ironic one. Hard for a casual racing fan to comprehend. Sounds
preposterous. The trouble with Honest Pleasure is that he runs too damn
selective horse breeding have culminated in what may be the ultimate in speed
and power. Honest Pleasure carries the genes of such great forebears as Bold
Ruler, Nasrullah, Blenheim II, Solario. Somehow the genes have all come
together to create a magnificent dark bay animal who is exciting to look at
when standing still, breathtaking to watch in motion.
Honest Pleasure is
big, but not too big. He has a large and handsome head, marvelous shoulders,
broad hindquarters rippling with muscle. The most captious critic of horseflesh
could walk around him all day without finding a flaw.
When he runs he
takes giant strides and he takes them quickly. Whoosh, whoosh. His hooves
scarcely seem to touch the ground; he seems to be floating effortlessly on a
cushion of air. In his last six races he has been in front from start to finish
and has won by an average of nearly eight lengths. In the Flamingo at Hialeah
in February, only his second start as a 3-year-old, he went the three-quarters
in 1:09 flat and the full mile and an eighth in 1:46[4/5], the fastest time in
the race's 47-year history. Fantastic.
Just how fantastic
can be gleaned from the figures compiled by Sam Engelberg, a Florida-based
professional handicapper with half a century of experience watching and rating
the horses. The "number" Engelberg put on Honest Pleasure's performance
in the Flamingo—a figure adjusted for such factors as weight carried, track
condition and even the direction and velocity of the wind—was 315. The only
other horse Engelberg ever flattered with an equally high number was the
brilliant but erratic Coaltown, after Coaltown's best race way back in 1948.
Secretariat never rated higher than 310 on Engelberg's scale.
flatly, "At this stage Honest Pleasure is the best I've ever seen."
Says another veteran handicapper, "Just looking at the cold figures, it's
hard to believe that this horse is for real."
But there's the
rub. One has to go beyond the cold figures and consider the matter of
temperament. And Honest Pleasure has inherited the spirit as well as the body
of an indomitable competitor. He is all business and no nonsense. A great
racehorse is supposed to run—and Honest Pleasure wants to bust out and run. The
trouble is that no horse can run at top speed all the way, and still win at a
mile and a quarter against the kind of opposition Honest Pleasure is sure to
face at Churchill Downs on May 1.
The question is
this: Can his trainer, LeRoy Jolley, teach Honest Pleasure to put prudence
ahead of pride and slow down a little in the first part of the race? Can his
jockey, Braulio Baeza, hold him back, rate him, force him to conserve some of
his strength for the stretch?
If not, Honest
Pleasure may be by far the best horse in the Derby—in fact even the
best-equipped horse in all history—and still lose.