So, too, was John Veitch, the trainer of Frances Genter's Dr. Carter. Veitch is only 38 years old, but he's been around. He trained three champions during a hitch at Calumet from 1976 to '82—Our Mims, Davona Dale and Before Dawn—as well as the magnificent Alydar, who finished second to Affirmed in all three 1978 Triple Crown races.
"I think Dr. Carter is better than Alydar," Veitch said. "I really do."
The big gray colt began telling him that late last year, after twice finishing second to Devil's Bag, in the Cowdin and Champagne stakes at Belmont, and third to Swale, another colt trained by Stephens, in the Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands. The real telling began in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 12, in which Dr. Carter bounded off the pace to win by 5½ lengths in 1:49 for the 1⅛ miles, sensational time over a dull, tiring surface. More than one New York handicapper said that this was as commanding a performance as any made by Devil's Bag all year. Veitch was more than heartened by it.
"The Remsen first showed me he had a brilliant future ahead of him," the trainer said.
Dr. Carter spent the winter at Hialeah, and Veitch brought him along slowly, with careful attention to a potentially bad ankle. On Feb. 22, two days after the Bag's Flamingo Prep, jockey Jorge Velasquez and Dr. Carter won the Dan Chappel Handicap by 17 lengths and tied the Hialeah track record of 1:40[3/5] for 1[1/16] miles.
"That race proved to me he was a considerably better 3-year-old than he was a 2-year-old," Veitch says. "I loved that race. I really loved it. Jorge didn't ask him to run. He moved his hands once. That was it. I was amazed he ran as fast as he did. He's a better racehorse now than he was last year—bigger, stronger, tougher, more experienced, more professional. If he runs the same race in the Flamingo, he'll win."
Penna, for his part, thought he might have an edge because the Bag and Dr. Carter had had only one race this year. Time for a Change had had three, all at Hialeah, so he had an advantage in seasoning, in sharpness, in familiarity with the track. "Devil's Bag is not 100 percent fit," said Penna. "Dr. Carter is not 100 percent. The Flamingo is the beginning of the road, not the end of the road. This race is too much, too soon, but I'm in a better position."
Ironically, among the criticisms of Time for a Change was that he was gutless. A speedball who apparently liked to run loose and unchallenged on the lead, Penna's colt, some said, would burp the bit and quit when Devil's Bag stretched his neck on the turn for home. That reputation perhaps stemmed in part from his performance last Aug. 21: After winning his first race by 10, Change left the gate awkwardly in the Hopeful Stakes and, though he was the odds-on favorite, got swallowed up in traffic and finished 11th, beaten 14½ lengths. That was his last start of the year.
"He started coughing a couple of days later," Penna says. "We lost September and October."
When Penna brought Change back at Hialeah, he was still very green. On Jan. 17, he came in second in an allowance race, beaten a head. Two weeks later in another allowance race, Time for a Change snatched the lead early and scored by four. Eleven days later, in the $50,000 Everglades Stakes, he opened up a 2½-length lead but won by only half a length. That gave him three races around two turns at Hialeah. Devil's Bag hadn't been around two turns in his life.