Steward J. Fred Colwill, looking lost and bewildered, is standing at the window of the lofty aerie that is the steward's stand at Pimlico and staring across the racetrack far below him. He is waiting for the 10th race to go off at Old Hilltop, but there is more of the immediate past than the present on his mind right now. He is listening, grimly expressionless, as steward Edward Litzenberger takes the calls that have somehow found their way through the overworked Pimlico switchboard to their quarters.
"You sound like a jerk, the way you're talking," Litzenberger says to a caller. "Gentlemen don't use that kind of language." Click.
Here comes another: "Well, that's your opinion," Litzenberger says. "Now I must say that's your privilege. Good." Click.
And another: "You're entitled to your opinion. What do you base that opinion on?" Pause. "Really? Really? When did this bumping and hitting take place?"
Hanging up the phone and shaking his head, Litzenberger finally makes what is surely his most unerring observation of the day: "This is beginning to sound like a talk show."
Just 20 minutes before, as part of one of the most controversial episodes in Triple Crown racing, the four Pimlico stewards—Colwill, Litzenberger, Clinton Pitts and Lawrence Lacey—had decided unanimously to let stand the order of finish in last Saturday's Preakness Stakes. Codex, the California invader owned by the Tartan Stable, had crossed the finish line 4¾ lengths in front of the Kentucky Derby winner, Genuine Risk. He had drifted into the filly coming off the turn for home—just as she was gaining on the colt—and had carried her out toward the middle of the track, effectively thwarting any challenge she might have mounted against him. What made the incident even more an issue was that it was clear, on videotape replays of the race, that Codex' rider, Angel Cordero Jr., had glanced back and obviously had seen the filly coming before Codex started to drift, thus raising the nasty suspicion that he had deliberately let Codex swing wide to carry her out. As if this were not enough, Genuine Risk's jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, charged in lodging a foul claim that Cordero had struck the filly on top of her head in the course of his right-handed whipping.
If it was not absolutely clear from viewing the race or replays of the incident on TV that Cordero had indeed struck Genuine Risk with his whip, it was perfectly evident that Codex had carried her out and left her hanging in the middle of the racetrack. The race and the replays were seen on TV by upwards of 30 million people, and many got immediate corroboration of what they thought they saw when Eddie Arcaro, doing color for the ABC telecast, ventured that, if he were a steward, he would have taken Codex' number down. When the stewards sustained the order of finish, the switchboard at Pimlico lit up with calls of protest.
What had promised to be one of the most memorable races in recent years thus dissolved into a moment within the race, one darkened by a shadow as long as the 1,152 feet of the Pimlico homestretch. For this Preakness had what no other Preakness had ever had—a filly, the first in 65 years to win a Kentucky Derby, making a race for it in the second leg of the Triple Crown. And she was no fluke, no dainty little thing who had beaten a bunch of bad colts. The knock of a few months ago, that this was a mediocre crop of colts, wasn't valid in May. She had won the Derby in a powerful, decisive performance, one that not merely set her apart from other members of her generation but also suggested, emphatically, that she might be among the very best Allies ever bred in this country. After Genuine Risk beat Rumbo by a length in the Derby—and he wouldn't have caught her if they had run twice again around Churchill Downs—one of the few colts given any chance to beat her was Codex, the winner of the Santa Anita and Hollywood Park Derbies, who early this spring had emerged as California's dominant 3-year-old.
Codex hadn't been nominated to the Kentucky Derby, and, in fact, it was only through fate that he was entered in the Preakness. Last February, when racetracks were soliciting nominations to the spring classics, the director of publicity for Churchill Downs, Bill Rudy, traveled to California to round up horses for the Derby. One morning at Santa Anita he asked trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who conditions Codex for the Tartan Stable, which of his nine 3-year-olds he wanted to nominate, at $100 apiece, for the Derby. Lukas took the list and checked off five nominees. Next to Codex' name Lukas wrote, "No." Then a few days later, when Keeneland Race Course's Ted Bassett came by soliciting nominations for the Blue Grass Stakes, Lukas wasn't at the barn. But his 22-year-old son, Jeff, was. Bassett had assumed that Lukas would nominate the same five for the Blue Grass as he had for the Derby. Jeff, however, added Codex to the Blue Grass list.
"My dad doesn't know how good Codex is," Jeff said. "If he won't pay the nomination fee, I will." When the Pimlico solicitor came by soon after, Jeff nominated Codex for the Preakness, too. And that is why the chestnut son of Arts and Letters, America's Horse of the Year in 1969, missed the plane to Louisville but made it to Baltimore.