The West remains the land of opportunity. Entering the $250,000 Gold Cup at Hollywood Park last Sunday afternoon, Jockey Marco Castaneda was on a 41-race losing streak. Pay Tribute, the horse he was riding against millionaires Dahlia and Foolish Pleasure, as well as California hero Ancient Title and the 1975 Belmont Stakes winner, Avatar, was the longest price on the tote board at 14 to 1, and Pay Tribute had won less money ($116,000) and fewer races than any of his seven opponents. Furthermore, the instructions to Castaneda from Trainer Ron McAnally were to let somebody—anybody—take the lead at the start. Naturally, when the gate opened, the first horse visible was Pay Tribute.
But Castaneda took his chestnut colt back to third as Our Talisman went to the front with Dahlia, racing's Auntie Mame, stalking not far behind. At the head of the stretch Pay Tribute sprang to the lead and drew out to win by 3� lengths over Avatar and Riot in Paris. Dahlia, Foolish Pleasure and Ancient Title, winners of 40 stakes and $3.5 million between them, finished fourth, fifth and sixth. But handicap racing is that way. It is tough, confusing and, yep, quite upsetting at times.
Three thousand miles away and three hours earlier another thoroughbred superstar, Royal Glint, was charging toward the half-mile pole at Suffolk Downs in Boston, bent on winning the $100,000 Massachusetts Handicap, which would put him in the millionaire category, too. Suddenly, blood vessels burst in his head and the gelding collapsed in a heap as the field wheeled around him. Jockey Jorge Teleira, who hit the fence going down, and whose silks and riding pants were streaked with blood when he stood up, unhurt, was sure his mount had suffered a heart attack. But after a few moments Royal Glint got to his feet and walked to his barn. He should recover from his gigantic nosebleed in a few days and be ready to race in two to four weeks. Dancing Champ, a 9-to-1 shot, won the race.
This was to be a summer of fierce matchups, and it still could be, though this was hardly the way to draw first blood. Jimmy Kilroe, the director of racing at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, had said early in the week, "I can't recall a recent season when there were as many excellent horses around. Right now there are nine or 10, whereas most years we are lucky to have two or three. One reason is that there are some really fine geldings in training—Forego, Ancient Title and Royal Glint. Also, the winners of the 1975 Triple Crown events—Foolish Pleasure, Master Derby and Avatar—are still running. Dahlia is going strong again. There are others, such as Riot in Paris and Hatchet Man."
At the end of 1975 it seemed that this would be a woeful handicap season. Forego, twice Horse of the Year, was sent to the farm, laid low by infirmities that have dogged him during his career; Wajima, the late developer among last season's 3-year-olds, was retired to stud; and Foolish Pleasure was to be syndicated. But Forego recovered and Foolish Pleasure is apparently being given a chance to spruce up his racing record so that Owner John Greer gets the top dollar when the colt is sold for stud.
The surprise of the spring was Master Derby, who started a five-race win streak at the Fair Grounds in January. In his fifth race, the Oaklawn Handicap, he met Royal Glint and beat him by 1� lengths, receiving three pounds. Three weeks later they took their act to Garden State Park in New Jersey for the Trenton Handicap. This time, competing at equal weights, Royal Glint won by a neck. Those fighting finishes impressed racing fans enough for Master Derby to go off at 5 to 1 when he was beaten by a very short head by Forego in the Metropolitan Mile on Memorial Day. Royal Glint skipped that event, picking up some easy money at Hazel Park instead.
The Racing Form often needs radar to track Royal Glint. Since last Aug. 30 he has raced at Aqueduct, Arlington Park, Belmont, Bowie, Calder, Garden State (twice), Hawthorne (twice), Hazel Park, Hollywood Park, Oaklawn (twice), Santa Anita (twice) and Suffolk Downs. During that time he earned $637,784 and a commission in the Air Force.
Royal Glint showed his toughness in March when he flew West for the Santa Anita Handicap. On the morning of the race Skip Potter, son of Trainer Gordon Potter, went to visit the gelding in his stall. "He was wearing a cribbing strap," Skip Potter says, "and when I tried to put a muzzle on him, he threw his head back. The cribbing strap [an inch-wide leather collar] dropped down his neck and cut off his air. He lost his equilibrium and fell down. I got right to him and loosened the strap. It scared him and me, but it didn't hurt him." A few hours later Royal Glint bulled his way to the lead and won the race by a nostril over Ancient Title.
While Royal Glint was shooting for the million at Suffolk, Ancient Title was attempting to do the same in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Like Royal Glint—and, in fact, many geldings—Ancient Title has real personality. He drinks beer and often breakfasts on coffee and doughnuts. He has been the most respected California runner of the 1970s, winning 16 stakes. Although the Gold Cup marked the 36th consecutive time Ancient Title had run in a stake, he has had relatively few starts per year—only in 1975 did he have as many as 10.
Last summer Ancient Title traveled East and won the Whitney at Saratoga. He will have to go East again if he wants to take away Forego's Horse-of-the-Year championship; the big son of Forli sits in New York and makes the opposition come to him.