Unfortunately for those who want a made-in- Hollywood finish, Steve Cauthen, the nation's sensational apprentice jockey, is without a Derby mount. So, too, is Willie Shoemaker, who is having a remarkable season at the age of 45. Until last weekend it seemed that Shoe would ride Habitony, a late closer who won the Santa Anita Derby by passing 13 horses in a spectacular quarter-mile burst, but Habitony will remain on the West Coast. Should anything happen to the other scheduled riders—suspensions or injuries—Cauthen or Shoemaker might still find a mount.
But those who prefer to play jockeys, not horses, will find Cordero on For The Moment, the best bet to upset Jean Cruguet on Seattle Slew. The Puerto Rican rider has taken two of the last three Derbies. This time he is a rival of Trainer Laz Barrera, who last year gave him a leg up on Bold Forbes (whom the jockey dubbed the " Puerto Rican Rolls-Royce"). On Saturday, Barrera will saddle Affiliate, who ran second in the Hollywood Derby. For those who like long-priced Latin entries there is another colt to be considered in the Derby—Papelote. So far the gray has looked more like a 1948 Ford than a Rolls, having failed to win in nine starts.
The odds on any colt winning the Run for the Roses are exceedingly long. Figuring them by the number of 3-year-olds registered, the odds this year are 27,793 to 1. Nevertheless, at week's end the Churchill Downs Race Book in Las Vegas was offering Seattle Slew at 1 to 5, meaning that a successful $2 bet on Slew would pay a 40� profit. Indeed, the colt is so strong a favorite that in Vegas no place or show bets are being accepted on him. Should the same odds be reflected at Churchill Downs, Slew could be the shortest-priced Derby winner ever. Triple Crown victors Count Fleet and Citation paid $2.80 and share the record for the lowest Derby payoff. Secretariat returned $5. Fifteen of 28 odds-on favorites have won Derbies, but five of the last eight have failed.
Seattle Slew may indeed be an extraordinary thoroughbred, deserving of all the money and praise being bestowed on him. Or he may be just a good horse facing weak opposition. The day that For The Moment ran so poorly in the Hollywood Derby, Trainer Charlie Whittingham gave his opinion about judging classic colts before the Triple Crown races. Whittingham has handled more than 270 stakes winners and has led the nation in earnings for five of the past seven years. "Racetrackers do the same thing every spring," he said. "It's in their blood. Come April they declare, 'This is a bad bunch of 3-year-olds.' It's part of the knocking game. But by the end of the season the same people are saying, 'Those horses weren't nearly as bad as everybody thought. Look what they did.' "
What Seattle Slew has to do next Saturday is handle the tight, confining paddock at the Downs without getting stirred up, then go onto the track and face that cacophony of yelling people and blaring bands, and finally drive through the eerie "Wall of Noise" at the top of the stretch caused by the shouting masses. And, oh yes, he has to prove that he can run a mile and a quarter with harassment every step of the way. The undefeated Slew has had fewer starts (six) than any of the other certain runners in the race, and a tactic that has been used against him before—that of opposing jockeys screaming at him during the course of a race—is certain to be employed again. But if you come home in front at 27,793 to 1, you've got to be something very special—and if you come out rolling a seven, you are more than just lucky.