- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
There is a special excitement and tension in a race where the stakes are high. Nowhere in the long history of racing have the stakes been higher than they were at Garden State last Saturday when a subway jam of 2-year-olds—19 of them—met to divide up a gross purse of $319,210 in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Garden State, with $170,000 or so to the winner. Walter Donovan, the track's general manager, was, in fact, so nervous that he turned his back to the field and sighed, "All I can do is hold my breath until they get around that first turn."
Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, about to saddle the Futurity winner Bold Ruler, was more relaxed. "To win races, no matter what the purse, you've first got to have the best horse, then, a lot of luck besides. I feel we've got the best horse, and I think we were lucky to draw the inside post position. If Ted [Atkinson] can get him in position around the first turn I think we should be in good shape. But never forget the part that racing luck plays. A man may think he knows what his own horse will do, but no man can hope to guess what every other horse in the race will do."
At a nearby table sat Calumet Farm's trainer, Jimmy Jones, a jovial man with a cheerful smile which does much to conceal the real Jones pessimism. Noting that Calumet's Iron Liege and Barbizon were to start from post positions 14 and 15, Jimmy gave out with the well-known Jones moan: "Look where they got us—out in the bleacher section in left field! How can we do anything from the outside when the best horse, Bold Ruler, is on the inside and should have everything his own way. All I can do is to tell my boys to do as they please, then sit back and hope."
To people who have taken note of the Jones pessimism over the years, Jimmy's woeful utterances last Saturday sounded suspiciously as though Jimmy was getting ready for a big payday. In fact, just five days before the race Calumet Farm had (on Jones's advice) shelled out $10,000 to make Barbizon a supplementary nomination. When he turned over the check to the track, Jimmy Jones's only glum comment had been, "Well, you can't hope to win anything if you keep your horses in the barn, can you?"
The race itself was a corker all the way, and it demonstrated two things very vividly. First, that the racing luck of which Mr. Fitz had spoken does play a tremendously important role. Second, never underestimate Jimmy Jones when the chips are down.
The most noticeable aspect of the start was that Bold Ruler, first into the gate, took it upon himself to throw a mild tantrum which resulted finally in a momentary sit-down in the starting gate before Atkinson and an assistant starter could persuade him that this was, after all, a working day and this was the starting gate. At the break, however, he got away with great speed and sailed into the turn well placed behind the lightning form of an outsider named Jaunty John and the second choice, Federal Hill. In the meantime Willie Hartack had Barbizon pretty much in the middle of the pack.
Then it happened. Jaunty John, who had reeled off the first half in :45[4/5], suddenly couldn't go another lick. As Federal Hill swept by him into the lead, Atkinson was set to move with Bold Ruler. "I had been noticing," said Ted, "that Jaunty John had a tendency to bear out. Well, I knew he was going to slow up pretty soon, and I figured the next time he bore out I'd go inside of him. But what I didn't know was that he was going to stop as fast as he did [Jaunty John dropped from first to last place in less than a quarter of a mile]. When he did, my horse ducked out right on Jaunty John's heels." Bold Ruler, who hadn't yet made a serious move, now was never going to. He finished 17th. He very nearly fell, and in a flash the field was flying by him—including Barbizon, who was gradually pulling into contention, from the 12th spot to ninth and now sixth. But there was Federal Hill to collar, and there too, now, was Amarullah. Once he and Barbizon were around the final turn in third place, Willie Hartack opened up the throttle, and foot by foot Barbizon bore down on the leaders. On the wire you knew only that Amarullah was third; you could only guess that Federal Hill and Barbizon had dead-heated. The picture alone (see page 30) settled it: Barbizon by the briefest of noses.
The reason you haven't heard much of Barbizon is that Jones is habitually—and purposely—slow in bringing most of his 2-year-olds to the races. Barbizon, a dark bay son of Polynesian out of a Bull Lea mare named Good Blood, made his first start, in fact, as late as September 15. After winning four in a row he was finally beaten less than a length by Federal Hill just a week before the Garden State. The way he was moving at the finish of the big one, however, should make him a natural for the longer distances he'll have to go next year. A smiling Jimmy Jones, off to a champagne victory party Saturday evening, finally sang a different tune. "I sort of felt all along," he said with a twinkle, "that he had a chance."
And Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, ever the gracious gentleman that he is, found the right words too. "Bold Ruler was having good luck until he jumped on that horse—but you have to expect those things in racing. Jimmy's horse ran a real fine race and came from a tough position."
Barbizon won his colors the hard way. He's going to be a good one, and when he and Bold Ruler next meet let's hope their race is not marred by poor racing luck.