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"I was elated with that race," Freeman says. So three weeks later, he wheeled Hostage back in another allowance race, at Gulfstream Park, and won by 2¼. Getting him ready for the Arkansas Derby, Freeman shipped the colt to Aiken, S.C., for a quick vacation. "Just for a change in climate," he says. "It was 80 degrees in Florida. In Aiken the highs were 60, 65. We hacked him around sandy roads. More the British way of training." That done, Freeman shipped him to Oaklawn Park, and on the Monday before the Arkansas Derby he drilled the colt three quarters of a mile in a heavy fog. Freeman caught Hostage in a sharp 1:12[4/5], then called up to the clocker's booth to double-check the time.
"Did you catch my horse going three-quarters?" Mike asked.
"No," said the clocker. "What did you get him in?"
"Twelve and four," the trainer said.
"No way!" bellowed the incredulous clocker, who promptly hung up the phone. So the work never appeared in the Daily Racing Form. "That's one reason the horse went off at 15-1," Freeman said. "The guy just didn't believe me."
In the Arkansas Derby, Hostage tracked the pace-setting Advance Man to the far turn, blew past him to take the lead nearing the three-quarter pole, opened up three lengths in midstretch and ended up winning by two lengths from El Baba.
Freeman made his professional reputation in the late 1960s when he trained champion Shuvee to win the Triple Crown for fillies in New York, then beat the colts twice with her, in 1970 and 1971, in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Hostage will be the first horse Freeman saddles for the Kentucky Derby, and he likes his chances. Hostage beat a nice colt to get where he is now.
"I think El Baba is a helluva horse," Freeman says. "We got nine pounds from him in Arkansas and that could have made a difference. There's not a 3-year-old in the country with his form. Very consistent. I have great respect for him. For Timely Writer, too. I saw his two races [the Flamingo and Florida Derby] and I was very impressed. And Muttering won the Santa Anita Derby and ran like a bulldog."
Muttering came from the same outfit that entertained us with Codex, the colt who won the controversial 1980 Preakness Stakes over Genuine Risk, the filly who had just won the Kentucky Derby. Muttering will also be one of the best-bred horses in the Derby, a race in which breeding tends to be a deciding factor more often than not. The colt's pedigree is Pan-American.
Several years ago, Nerud was trying to sell a stud prospect named Country Doctor, a son of Dr. Fager, to a South American breeder. Nerud wanted $15,000. The South American balked at the price, offering instead to pay for the stud with a broodmare.