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At one time or another nearly every thoroughbred throws in a baffling race. There is no excuse, no explanation for the dismal showing. Such a performance can occur anytime, but when it happens 20 days before the Kentucky Derby, with a purse of $227,500 on the line, the failure is magnified and the alarm to those around the horse is understandable. On April 17, For The Moment entered the starting gate for the Hollywood Derby with a record that included no finish worse than second in 10 starts. The horse had trained perfectly for the race. Furthermore, he was Honest Pleasure's little brother and in the previous season had won the prestigious Cowdin and Belmont Futurity to stand close to the top of his generation.
But that afternoon at Hollywood Park For The Moment finished a wretched seventh, and the colt's owners (Gerald Robins, Tim Sams and Peter Fuller), his trainer ( LeRoy Jolley) and jockey ( Angel Cordero Jr.) still cannot explain why. The colt was well placed throughout and free of trouble. But they didn't give up on their horse, and because they didn't the 103rd Kentucky Derby could turn out to be something more than a canter for Seattle Slew.
Last Thursday, For The Moment won the $119,350 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, finding the burgoo-like going to his taste. Behind him were 10 Derby hopefuls. For The Moment broke swiftly, knocked off multiple-stakes winner Ruthie's Native handily and scored by nearly two lengths. "This was not like the Hollywood Derby," Cordero said. "This is another horse."
For The Moment certainly looked different as he stood in the Blue Grass walking ring. Jolley had equipped the colt with blinkers for the first time. "I had thought all along that For The Moment was a blinker horse," Jolley said after the Blue Grass, "but he had run so well without them that I didn't bother to use them. Why change equipment when things are going good, and until the Hollywood Derby the horse hadn't really run a bad race. Maybe he didn't like the track that day. I don't know. But it was the kind of race that indicated something should be done. Before the Blue Grass we worked him in blinkers, and it seemed to perk him up."
Blinkers keep an animal's concentration focused on the task ahead. In earlier times—and in Europe to this day—they were a last resort, only being put on horses that were rogues or fainthearted. In the U.S. they are no longer considered badges of bad conduct. In truth they often serve a good purpose—making a horse try harder—which For The Moment will certainly have to do to win this Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
He and Seattle Slew have met once, in the Champagne Stakes last fall at Belmont. The race was Slew's first stakes appearance and he outran For The Moment by nearly 10 lengths. "It was a mismatch," Jolley says. "I'm a big fan of Seattle Slew's; he might be a super horse. Still, I've got to try him again."
As part owner (12�%) of For The Moment, Boston's Peter Fuller returns with a Derby starter for the first time since 1968, the year his Dancer's Image won the race but lost the purse when Butazolidin was found in the colt's urinalysis. It took the state of Kentucky nearly two years to straighten out that mess and declare the second colt across the line, Forward Pass, the winner. Ironically, the state now allows horsemen to use Bute and it is no secret that it has aided Derby starters since.
Traditionally, the Derby draws a star-studded field of humans as well as horses, and this year there will be as many baseball celebrities in attendance as one can find in a courtroom. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn is expected, as are Hall of Famer Stan Musial, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner (who has an entry named Steve's Friend) and Charles O. Finley of the A's. As part of last week's trade that brought 20-game winner Mike Torrez to New York from Oakland, Steinbrenner threw in two box seats for Finley at the Derby and gave Charlie O. the right to lead Steve's Friend out of the winner's circle should the colt end up there.
If Finley wants his moment in the sun, he might well sign a deal with some other owners, like Golden Chance Farm, whose Run Dusty Run was second in the Blue Grass. The colt is a street fighter who has been to the races 14 times and finished first or second in 13 of them. Run Dusty is from the last U.S. crop of Dust Commander, the 1970 Derby winner, who is now at stud in Japan.
Western Wind is another colt to consider. He is improving and was third in the Blue Grass despite being in trouble much of the way. And last Saturday at Churchill Downs, one of the best-named of the 3-year-olds earned his way into the race by winning the one-mile Stepping Stone Purse. The colt is by Silver Screen from The Garden Club and is called Nostalgia.