Last saturday afternoon in the Los Angeles smog before 55,237 people, C. V. Whitney's Tompion ran himself right into a favorite's position for this year's Kentucky Derby when he won the 23rd Santa Anita Derby in a very forceful fashion and record Derby time. Now the pitchmen who stand outside the gates at Churchill Downs can start to wind up their mechanical dogs and puff air into their souvenir rubber horses, and julep stuffers throughout the city of Louisville can begin to unlimber. Just eight weeks from this Saturday the Kentucky Derby is going to be run once again, and it looks as if the 3-year-olds of 1960 are finally taking some interest in it.
In the last few seasons the attentions of people who worry about classic horses for classic races have been directed toward the Santa Anita Derby, for it has yielded three Kentucky Derby winners in the last eight years (Hill Gail, Determine and Swaps), and it has also produced a group of fascinating horses who have kept Kentucky buzzing—like Round Table, Royal Orbit, Silky Sullivan and Silver Spoon.
Before this year's Santa Anita Derby, however, Californians were buzzing themselves about a new home-grown legend who may become even more of a national legend before this racing season ends. He's a combination of a devil and a race horse; he was sired by the sire of Swaps (Khaled, out of a mare called Play Possum); he's not too big but he's gigantic in people's minds; his owner feels he's worth half a million dollars and last Saturday he ran like ten cents. His name is Flow Line, and before finishing ninth in a field of nine he had just about every knowledgeable racing patron convinced that he was going to be a great horse. He had never raced until the third day of the Santa Anita meeting (December 29), but he had then won four times in a row (although he was once disqualified after impeding two other horses and was moved back to third place). He might have won a fifth race, but as he was being brought out from the saddling shed to the walking ring a racing fan flashed a racing form in front of him, and the outraged colt bolted, scattering people left and right. Thus, some consider him a rogue, though their opinion must be dismissed as prejudiced, since these are people upon whom the horse leaned a little. Ten fans reported injuries to the track's first aid room, and one of them has filed suit for $100,000 against his owner, a 49-year-old silver-haired oilman from Newport Beach named C. Marc Crawford. The stewards scratched Flow Line, thus delaying his first stakes start until the San Felipe Handicap on February 20, his fourth race. Flow Line won the San Felipe in an easy gallop, beating some of the best colts of his generation, among them Eagle Admiral, T. V. Lark, New Policy and Noble Noor.
That race convinced nearly everyone that Flow Line was a real runner. Rival owners and rival trainers, jockeys and their agents, ushers, anyone even remotely connected with racing knew "this" was "some" horse. Four days before the Santa Anita Derby, Flow Line was given a public workout, and rumors quickly started to spread of imminent sale. When asked whether his horse was indeed for sale Marc Crawford never batted an eyelash. "Yes," he said, "Flow Line is for sale. I'm asking for between a quarter and a half million dollars, and people are interested in buying him."
Just the day before the Derby, however, Crawford sat in his box at the track and said, "I haven't really made up my mind whether to sell him or not. I bred this horse myself, and it's hard to sell a horse that you've bred. Last year a lot of little things went wrong with him that kept him from getting to the races. He jumped out of his stall. Jumped over the rail of a walking ring. Reared in the air and fell on his rump. Got hurt again, and we had to turn him out for six months. Bucked his shins after that and we had to give him another rest. The other day when that fellow opened the paper in front of him, he got scared. As he was running, people began to slap him with papers and he got really frightened. He jumped a bench and two hedges before he was caught. I don't think I'm going to sell him. I'm going to take a gamble on the Derby. It's 99% sure that I won't sell him."
On the day of the Santa Anita Derby, Flow Line, an even-money favorite, behaved just fine—for a while. When the starting gate opened, however, he jumped high into the air, but he quickly righted himself and skipped into the lead. At the clubhouse turn he tried to bolt, and his rider, Bill Boland, was fighting to keep the horse from running to the outside fence. Down the backstretch Flow Line kept trying to run out, and near the top of the stretch he tried once more. "I'm a pretty strong boy," Boland said later, "but I just couldn't hold him. I had to give up and let the others go by me." Flow Line ended up dead last, beaten 25 lengths. He had cost his newly found public $260,269.
WAITING FOR TOMPION
Tompion is a colt for whom many people have waited many months. He is a meticulously bred brown runner, by Tom Fool out of a Count Fleet mare named Sunlight, who is often difficult to ride. He won three races last year, including The Hopeful at Saratoga. This year he had started four times before last Saturday and had won only one race. That race, however, impressed his trainer, 39-year-old Bob Wheeler. "I've always thought that he was a good horse," says Wheeler, "and the win made me feel a little better about his chances in the Santa Anita Derby. He's a tough, sound horse, and he isn't temperamental, public opinion to the contrary. He's just beginning to get his confidence now, though he's a horse that always seems to get himself into trouble. He doesn't like to get hit in the face with dirt, and when he is, it discourages him. Near the end of last season I changed his training procedure, made him gallop longer distances, and I always had in mind bringing him around at just the right time. Well, the right time is coming up now. I'll ship him to Lexington between the 10th and 15th of April and maybe get a race into him before the Blue Grass Stakes and then run him in the Blue Grass (April 28). Mr. Whitney tried to get out here for the race today, but I guess the weather was bad in Kentucky and he couldn't make it."
" C. V. Whitney has won just about every important race in the country except one," Bob Wheeler was asked. "Do you know the name of that one?"
"Yes," said Wheeler, "The Kentucky Derby."