With the Kentucky Derby still three weeks away, it is nonetheless possible now to form a rough picture of it. Without a single standout like Tim Tarn a year ago, the 1959 Derby will undoubtedly attract a large and unwieldy field. And full of question marks it will be.
Both Easy Spur and Sword Dancer will be shipping from Gulfstream, and Sword Dancer, who finished a very creditable third to First Landing and Tomy Lee in last year's Garden State, will benefit enormously from his Florida Derby experience. In fact, this being only his third start of the year, it must be considered every bit as good as Easy Spur's eighth start. And what now of Troilus? His race last week was complete and utter disappointment, and if there was any excuse only Troilus himself could tell us which of the many offered for him is the most valid. Admittedly a "short" horse and, in the words of Trainer Charlie Peoples, "looking like a fat old brood mare" for his race 10 days before the Florida Derby, Troilus was given some good works in preparation for his rematch with Easy Spur. Along with the stiff works, however, came some bad luck. First it was a couple of abscessed teeth. Then, only the day before the race, he rapped his left foreleg in his stall, and for most of Friday his starting status was extremely doubtful. When the leg showed no signs of soreness it was decided to send him on his way. In the race itself, observed Jockey Chris Rogers, "he went fine until we got to the half-mile pole, but then he ran dinky the rest of the way and I thought he pulled up kind of lame." Rogers reversed this decision an hour later when, back at the barn where Troilus was cooling out, he had to agree with Owner Bayard Sharp and Trainer Peoples that his mount looked sound as a bell. "The only explanation I can think of," said Peoples, "is that he choked up on that mucus draining from his teeth after going three-quarters of a mile—and simply stopped."
"Either that," added Sharp, "or else he's the alltime bum of the race track. But whatever it was bothering him I'm inclined to just forget this race altogether and think about going to Kentucky. He deserves a chance at it, and if he continues to stay sound I'm going to give him his chance."
Nothing else in the beaten Florida Derby field would seem to deserve that same chance. Already in Kentucky are the Calumet hopefuls, On-and-On and Torocuik, neither of whom yet looks threatening; Claiborne Farm's disappointing Dunce; and Cain Hoy's Hoist Away, a Turn-To colt who, if I had to pick a dark horse now, would be as good a bet as any.
New York is going to provide its Derby shippers in the next 10 days, and of course the big names there are First Landing, hoping to bounce back in the April 18th Wood Memorial, and Intentionally, who passed up the rewards and rigors of winter racing in favor of a South Carolina training track. Others who may win the necessary backing at Jamaica to undertake the trip to Churchill Downs include Atoll, Black Hills, Our Dad, Open View, Moony and maybe one of the Greentree colts. From New England comes Hurry Home, a Dark Star colt who will get his chance in the Wood.
The biggest question mark—and also the strongest Derby contingent in years—is the invading crew from California, headed by the unbeaten filly Silver Spoon. With her will come several of her Santa Anita Derby victims, including Royal Orbit, Finnegan and Tuleg, as well as last year's West Coast 2-year-old champion Tomy Lee, who is headed for Keene-land's Blue Grass stakes on April 23.
There are not more than 15 of the original 130 Kentucky Derby nominees who rate a chance to run for the rose wreath at the moment, but with the way the topsy-turvy season has been going so far it's beginning to look more and more as though the time is ripe for a whopping payoff on a long shot.