But Payson didn't get personally involved in the racing business until he married Virginia Kraft in 1977. She was a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED associate editor, and they met while she was on assignment at his 16,000-acre ranch in Florida. "I went down to do a story about turkey shooting," she says. "I spent a long weekend with Charlie and his four shooting friends. I decided, having observed him that weekend, that he was considerably more interesting than turkey-shooting."
The Payson fortune is estimated at $125 million, and the stable's business manager, Gerald Shanley, says that Charles and Virginia have invested about $20 million in the business in the last five years. They bought and expanded a thoroughbred training center now called Pay-son Park, in Florida, with 750 acres and 565 stalls. When they couldn't get stalls at Saratoga one summer, they bought a tract of land adjoining the racetrack and built their own 15-stall barn. "It took only 14 days," Virginia says. They have also been busy acquiring bloodstock, buying yearlings and building up a band of broodmares, which now numbers 35.
"In 1980, when we got into this, I told my husband, 'In five years I'll give you a Derby-quality horse,' " Virginia says.
With Carr de Naskra, the Paysons came to the Travers a year ahead of schedule. They didn't race him as a 2-year-old. "We gave him some time to develop," says their trainer, Richard Lundy. Carr de Naskra broke his maiden in his first start at Hialeah on Feb. 11, and two weeks later he sizzled through seven furlongs in 1:21[2/5] to win an allowance race by 3� lengths, looking as if he could be any kind of horse. Which made his third start, a fifth-place in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, all the more disappointing. "He bucked his shins and so we gave him some time off," Lundy says.
Carr de Naskra came bouncing back in May, winning an allowance race at Belmont by 4� lengths. After a dull fourth in the Colin at Belmont on June 9, he ran a smashing second to Big Pistol, a multiple stakes winner, in the Governor's Cup Handicap at Bowie. A month later, Carr de Naskra crushed nine other 3-year-olds in the 1?-mile Jim Dandy at Saratoga, winning by 12� lengths. That set him up for the Travers.
"I couldn't have him any better than he is right now," Lundy said. "He's full of run and dead fit, and that's how you like to come up to a big one." Hoisting Pincay aboard, he gave the rider his head. "You don't have to be on the lead," Lundy told Pincay. "You come out of the gate and ride it the way you feel."
Carr de Naskra, fourth on the inside most of the way, stalked the pace-setting Big Pistol all the way to the stretch, with Pincay simply waiting for a place to say go. As Big Pistol faded and Track Barron jumped to the lead at the top of the stretch, Pincay was trapped. "I was praying for a place to go," he says. He found it as they drove past the eighth pole. Pincay asked and Carr de Naskra answered. Day and Pine Circle looked as though they wanted to win, breaking past Track Barron along the rail, but Carr de Naskra quickly grabbed the lead and held on to the wire.
"It was a fabulous ride," Virginia told Pincay, kissing the jockey in the winner's circle. "It's just incredible. We won the Travers!"