On St. Patrick's Day at Santa Anita, Flying Paster, the West's most successful 3-year-old, ran third in the San Felipe Handicap, beaten a head and a nose by two horses to whom he was giving eight and 13 pounds, large concessions for a colt early in his classic season. The loss, the first for Flying Paster since last July, baffled his owner, Ben Ridder, Trainer Gordon Campbell and Jockey Don Pierce. That day, Flying Paster ran with his ears pinned back, a sign that two brisk workouts before the San Felipe had taken their toll. Last Sunday, with all the colts carrying 120 pounds, Flying Paster ran in the $192,400 Santa Anita Derby, and his San Felipe loss encouraged nine owners to start horses against him. What a mistake.
Flying Paster's ears were upright for the Santa Anita Derby and he won as he pleased, cantering to a 6�-length win over California Derby winner Beau's Eagle. And the two horses who had finished in front of Flying Paster in the San Felipe, Pole Position and Switch Partners, finished eighth and third respectively.
In the Santa Anita Derby, Flying Paster started to move toward the leaders, Beau's Eagle and Terlingua, with three-eighths of a mile remaining in the 1?-mile race and rushed past them. After the race, the elated Pierce said that through the stretch he "never hit Flying Paster in the rear, just tapped him gently on the shoulder a couple of times."
Despite Paster's compelling victory, Spectacular Bid will be a decided favorite at Churchill Downs. He has won nine consecutive stakes, and he has won them by a total of more than 60 lengths, a statistic for owners of rival horses to consider before heading for Louisville. However, as bleak as the prospect of beating Spectacular Bid may seem, it should be recalled that in the past 20 years, 13 post-time Derby favorites have lost.
A year ago, Alydar was thumping rivals at Hialeah, Gulfstream and Keeneland as he moved along the same Derby-bound trail that Spectacular Bid is now taking. At Churchill Downs, however, Alydar was beaten by Affirmed, the Santa Anita and Hollywood Derby winner, and eventually lost the Triple Crown events.
"There are a lot of derbies leading to the Derby," said Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Terlingua, the first filly to start in a Santa Anita Derby in 17 years. "There's a derby in Florida, three in California, one in Louisiana and another in Arkansas. But the Santa Anita Derby is far and away the most interesting pre- Kentucky Derby race which will be run this year. After Flying Paster got beat in the San Felipe, it changed a lot of people's thinking. He could be beaten and was. Why would I run Terlingua against colts? I've done it before. Did it last year at Hollywood Park in the Juvenile Stakes, and she beat Flying Paster."
Thus far, Terlingua is Secretariat's most successful offspring. Going into last week's race, she had won five of eight, had never been worse than third, and had easily cleared her purchase price of $275,000.
Pole Position was perhaps the most interesting horse in the race—or, more correctly, had the most interesting owners. As a 2-year-old in training, Pole Position was purchased a year ago for $13,500 by six guys from Edmonton, Canada: four meat packers, an electrical contractor and a retired painting contractor. And the colt entered last Sunday's race after eight races in which he never finished behind a single horse. Granted, he had been disqualified after winning each of his first two starts, but Pole Position overcame those indignities and his number stayed up in the next six. He won at places that still baffle Racing Form readers: NP, STP, EP. These are designations for Northlands, Stampede and Exhibition Parks in Canada, each a half-miler.
Last year Pole Position nearly tripled his purchase price, winning $35,956. Early this year he was shipped to California to try deep water. "I couldn't get a stall for the horse at Santa Anita," says George (Goody) Goodwin, Pole Position's 63-year-old trainer, "but I managed to get one at Hollywood Park, and we shipped the horse up to Santa Anita for his first two races in California."
Although Goodwin had hoped to break Pole Position into the big leagues with a six-furlong race, the best thing he could find was a race at 1[1/16] miles, and that was the Santa Catalina Stakes, which Pole Position won by a nose. Three weeks later, the colt won the San Felipe Handicap, the race in which Flying Paster came in third. In his two 1979 starts, Pole Position had picked up $74,600 and boosted his lifetime earnings to $110,556. Although he was not among the original nominees to the Santa Anita Derby (for a fee of $100), Pole Position became a supplemental entry for $5,000.