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All that changed after the Flamingo, when Devil's Bag, with Maple up, spit the bit coming off the turn for home and finished fourth, buried alive. Four days later Swale won the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream by eight, despite traveling wide. He finished third in the Fountain of Youth 10 days later, but he came back two weeks after that to win the Florida Derby by three-quarters of a length over Dr. Carter. Maple had ridden Swale in the Fountain of Youth, but he chose to ride Devil's Bag exclusively after that, so Pincay snatched Swale up for the Florida Derby. After he won that race, Pincay had the mount for good. "He's my Kentucky Derby horse," Pincay said.
At 37, Pincay had himself another chance to win a Derby. Fate hadn't been kind to him in Kentucky. In 1973 he turned for home on the lead with Sham—"I thought," he says," 'I'm going to win my first Kentucky Derby!' "—only to glance to his right and see the massed brown of Secretariat's neck craning on his outside. Sham ended up second. Six years later, Pincay turned for home on the lead with General Assembly, only to look over and see Spectacular Bid starting his run. Again Pincay finished second. The next year, on stretch-running Rumbo, he made a late move on Genuine Risk, but fell a length short. Second again. By 1983 Pincay had resigned himself to the fact that the Kentucky Derby wasn't for him. "It was very frustrating," he once said. "I was prepared to accept it. All my life I tried to win it and I never win it."
After winning the Florida Derby, Pincay figured he might be on the livest wire among the Derby horses, though Swale's dull second in the Lexington Stakes on a rain-slick racetrack at Keeneland on April 17 gave him pause to wonder. "I was afraid he got hurt in that race," Pincay says. "He felt funny to me."
Obviously, the colt couldn't handle the track. Neither could Woody, whose extraordinary stable of horses has won 15 stakes so far this year and has had him racing from track to track—from Florida to New York to Kentucky and back—to keep up. The furious pace finally caught up with Stephens and he checked into the hospital. Seth Hancock named Griffin, who had been in charge of yearlings at Claiborne Farm, to temporarily take over the training of Swale and the Bag.
The pressure on Griffin quickly intensified. The Bag won the Derby Trial, but unimpressively, and it was clear that the colt was facing a potentially humiliating defeat in the Derby. Prudently, his handlers decided to withdraw him and aim him for the Preakness Prep at Pimlico on May 12 and the Preakness on May 19. That left Maple without a mount, at least until he picked up the long shot At The Threshold during Derby week.
Chauffeured by his physician, Dr. David Richardson, a subdued and weakened Stephens three times left the hospital and visited the barn during Derby Week. One morning he rolled down his window to say hello to Jack Van Berg, the trainer of Derby candidate Gate Dancer. Van Berg offered his condolences regarding the Bag. "That colt just never found himself this spring," Stephens said.
But Swale had. "Swale likes this racetrack and he's ready," Griffin said on Derby eve. On the long walk from the barn to the paddock before the race, the crowds hollered at Swale, but he stayed calm. "That's just the way this colt is," Griffin said. "He's got a lot of class about him. This horse will run well today."
The strategy was simple. Swale had speed, but he didn't have to go to the lead, so the idea was to get him out of the gate and take aim on the leaders. "Lay close to the pace," Griffin told Pincay. "Don't let anybody steal it."
Griffin boosted Pincay aboard, and Stephens headed off slowly through the crowds to watch the race on television in the Directors Room. "If he breaks decent and gets into the first turn decent, fourth or fifth, I'll be in good shape," Stephens said. "I have a top rider on him. If he goes into the backstretch within striking distance, he'll be tough to beat."
Stephens had his way. Pincay rode the colt masterfully. Swale left the gate with a bounce, and he rushed with the leaders to the first turn, tucking in third behind the front-running Althea and Bear Hunt. Swale tracked them through the first half mile, Pincay sitting cool, and suddenly Bear Hunt had had enough and Swale set out to introduce himself to Althea. He chased her into the far turn like he was trying to get her phone number. He galloped up right alongside of her, as if to ask her point blank, "O.K., and what have you got?"