His awful name seemed to endear Jackie Wackie to the masses. And so did the fact that, as a gelding, he would never be beloved by the industry's blueblood breeders. Furthermore, there is his trainer, Oliver S. (Buddy) Edwards, who is black and weighs 310 pounds, down 80 as a result of dieting. Edwards is an amiable man who cheerfully admits to hating coats and ties. But whenever he mentioned the Kentucky Derby, as he often did before the Florida Derby, it sent shock waves through the racing establishment, ripples that must have caused Churchill Downs' twin spires to quiver.
In early January, Edwards had mentioned to Gulfstream racing secretary Terence Blair Meyocks that he might want some stalls for the Gulfsteam meeting. "He told me to forget about it," Edwards says. But after Jackie Wackie won the Tropical Park Derby on Jan. 13 at Calder, Gulfstream called to say, Hey, we were just kidding. "But I told them I'd stay put at Calder," Edwards says. "Jackie handles shipping real good, so I figured I'd just van him over." Which he did for the Feb. 14 Cryptoclearance Stakes, where a 2�-length victory convinced the skeptics that Jackie Wackie might be more than just a tacky name.
But Jackie Wackie wasn't a factor in the Florida Derby, struggling home seventh in the eight-horse field, much to the disappointment of his many fans. The early pace was set by the 41-1 long shot Shoot to Kill, with Fly So Free laying fourth and Strike the Gold dropping back to last. The fractions were a decent :22[4/5] for the first quarter, :46[4/5] for the half mile and 1:11[3/5] for six furlongs.
Fly So Free, the 2-5 favorite, made his move leaving the half-mile pole, a little too soon to suit Schulhofer. He took the lead coming out of the turn for home, while Strike the Gold gobbled up horses and ground behind him. With an eighth of a mile to go, Strike the Gold, closing fast on the outside, got to within a half length of Fly So Free, but no farther. Responding to Santos's busy whip, Fly So Free held on to win by a length.
"He has a habit of waiting for his competition," Schulhofer said later. "I'm not nervous about that. Good horses have little quirks sometimes."
But is it just a quirk or a significant flaw? Will Fly So Free be able to indulge his habit and win when he meets the best of the West in Kentucky? And what about Meadow Star, the unbeaten filly who made her 3-year-old debut last Saturday at Aqueduct with an easy 4�-length victory? If Fly So Free fails to win his final Kentucky Derby prep, the April 13 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, more convincingly than he did the Florida Derby, might not Meadow Star's trainer, LeRoy Jolley, who won the 1980 Kentucky Derby with the filly Genuine Risk, be tempted to let her run for the roses?
These were not the questions Schulhofer wanted to hear late Saturday afternoon. His colt had accomplished his mission and stayed on schedule. Wasn't that enough? Why couldn't the press let him sniff the orchids? And why couldn't victory, any kind of victory, be enough?
"So far, so good," Schulhofer said as he knocked three times on the wooden frame of his office door. Then he smiled and went inside. The cake was still waiting to be cut.