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That was among the very few knowns in the Million. There were five European horses in the race—Crystal Glitters, Dahar, Mourjane, Muscatite and Hot Touch—and the consensus was that Glitters was the best. But just how he and the others would perform, after the long trip across the Atlantic and in unfamiliar surroundings, made mysteries of all of them.
The U.S. had six fur coats (there was one Canadian horse, Nijinsky's Secret): John Henry, Desert Wine, Gato del Sol, Jack Slade, Majesty's Prince and the filly. Desert Wine had recently been syndicated for $13 million, off three smashing victories on the dirt this year, but he was third in his last start on the grass at Del Mar. Gato del Sol was winless in six tries this year. Majesty's Prince was fond of soft grass courses, but Arlington's was firm. Jack Slade, a hometown boy, had won but two small grass stakes at Arlington this summer. Of the rest, a bit more was known. Royal Heroine had raced and trained superbly for Gosden this year, winning two grass stakes at Hollywood Park, and the only question was whether she could get the route. Nijinsky's Secret, a genuine racehorse, had won four of five on the turf this year.
"He's all set," said Charles Whittingham, the trainer of Gato del Sol. "Now it's all in the hands of a guy with a size three hat and a size one shoe."
It's no wonder that John Henry was $1.10 to $1 on the tote. Sam Rubin, who owns the gelding with his wife, Dorothy, has a song for all occasions, and he was asked in the paddock what the tune of the day was. To It Had To Be You, he crooned, "It has to be me, it has to be me!"
So it was. With the exception of Desert Wine's lackluster last place and the indifferent exertions of all the European horses—Hot Touch was best, finishing
"The only anxious moment I had was keeping him under control behind that slow pace," McCarron said. "He was really pulling hard on me. Very strong." Turning for home, he was trapped on the rail behind Royal Heroine and inside of Nijinsky's Secret. When Secret drifted, John scooted. And that was it.
The winner's circle was chaotic. It was packed with people, and John Henry entered it like the bull through the wall in the beer commercial. McCarron shouted, "Watch him! He wants to kick a little bit." People scattered.
"Whoa, Pappy!" exercise rider Lewis Cenicola yelled as John Henry spun him and Mercado in circles. At one point the old horse wheeled and drove Cenicola into a hedge.
"Watch him! Watch him!" McCarron repeated, as he helplessly turned. Whether here or during the race, the horse suffered a cut on his right hock. And there was another wound on his right hind heel. If those are minor matters, he will fly to New York soon for the rich Turf Classic at Belmont on Sept. 22 and then perhaps back to California for the $2 million turf championship in the Breeder's Cup series on Nov. 10. Since his sire wasn't nominated for the series, Rubin would have to put up a $400,000 supplementary fee to get John Henry into that—one heck of a big bet.
There are alternatives. "We'll give pony rides in San Diego," said Rubin. "He loves San Diego, and we'd get $5 a ride." Then Rubin got serious. "We can't believe this animal can do this at this age and we're grateful and I don't know what else to say," he said.