The move was quick and awesome. Alydar, with Jockey Jorge Velasquez showing patience and confidence, was gliding along in sixth place, free of trouble and not very far from the horses in front of him. Then, with a little more than half a mile remaining in the 49th running of Hialeah's Flamingo Stakes, he took off. By the time the field reached the top of the stretch Alydar had put them all away. Sailing along to win by 4� lengths, he established himself as a strong favorite for the Kentucky Derby—and also as one of the best horses Calumet Farm has ever owned.
Alydar runs well from behind, and his best moves normally are made in the final furlong. Sometimes his late rushes work and he looks like a champion. Other times he makes his run too late and just fails to get up at the wire. Last year when he was beaten that way people wondered if he was a good horse or just another runner afflicted with what racetrackers call "seconditis."
The Flamingo usually provides the Derby with not only its betting favorite, but also often with the winner. It is a race seldom won cheaply, and horses normally don't run off by themselves. Alydar's winning margin last Saturday was impressive in comparison with even the best previous Flamingo winners. Seattle Slew won the 1977 Flamingo by four lengths, and in the last 28 years only Never Bend, Hold Your Peace and Honest Pleasure won by bigger margins than Alydar. In the 48 previous runnings of the Flamingo, only Honest Pleasure's 1:46[4/5] was better than Alydar's and Bold Ruler's 1:47 for the 1? miles.
For two weeks the race had been building up as a match between Alydar and Believe It, with the other six starters in secondary roles. As 2-year-olds, Believe It and Alydar had met three times, with Alydar winning twice. Believe It's victory came in the Remsen Stakes at the close of the season. Each had started once this year at Hialeah and won a seven-furlong race in exactly the same time. People who saw both races felt that Believe It's win was more impressive because Alydar had run as usual, dawdling until he felt the time was right and then coming on to win.
In recent years 3-year-old racing has been dominated by horses that run in front and stretch out their victories. Seattle Slew was a perfect example, as were Foolish Pleasure, Honest Pleasure and Bold Forbes. Alydar and his come-from-behind style are more reminiscent of Needles and Carry Back, two former Flamingo winners, if not as dramatic as Silky Sullivan.
Last week, those who had watched Alydar suddenly found themselves looking at a new horse. Before the Flamingo, the Calumet colt had appeared half asleep each time the gate opened. "He just doesn't seem to break well," Trainer John Veitch said, "but it isn't the kind of a flaw that you worry about. We haven't spent a great deal of time trying to correct it. It's his style, but not a style that should continue. Alydar doesn't look like a big horse, but he is. He's a perfect athlete—compact and with all the things in the right places."
Alydar was extremely nervous as he approached the starting gate for the Flamingo, and three assistant starters had to help load him. But in contrast to his previous 11 starts, Alydar got away from the gate in good style and then settled back to sixth place, letting the speed take over the track. At no time did he throw his head around as he has done so often.
Slap Jack led with quick fractions, and Believe It was never far away. With more than a quarter of a mile remaining, Believe It and Alydar hooked up for an instant, but just an instant as Alydar went by Believe It so quickly that Believe It looked like a horse painted on the rail.
Hialeah drew its biggest Flamingo crowd in nine years to see the matchup, and the 28,019 bet nearly $430,000, but they bet very carefully. Alydar went off as the 9-to-10 favorite, and Believe It was bet down to 11 to 10. The rest of the field was given little chance, with third choice Junction going off at 8 to 1 and the long shot, Noon Time Spender, priced at 59 to 1.
Before the race Veitch was asked to size up his competition. "Believe It is the horse to beat," he said, "and I think we can beat him. Alydar can run the last eighth of a mile in 11 seconds, and there aren't too many around that can do that. If any horse can run the last eighth faster than Alydar, then the other horse should win. I've felt all along that Alydar is a better horse than Believe It, and now we'll find out if I'm right. Last year Alydar was the second-best 2-year-old to Affirmed. Between the end of a 2-year-old season and the start of the 3-year-old year, horses can grow quite a bit and mature. I think that has been the case with Alydar. He's grown about an inch and put on some weight. I think a couple of things might happen with him and I hope I'm right about them. As the distances stretch out he should get better. Better and stronger."