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Forty-five minutes before last Saturday's $141,875 Delaware Handicap, Johnny Longden, the wise and wrinkled old jockey of 55, and Manuel Ycaza, the rough and romantic young jockey of 24, were talking about females. Female horses, that is. "Manny," said Longden, "you could travel your lifetime and watch a billion races and you would never find a field of fillies and mares like this one." Ycaza ran his finger down the list of nine starters, thought and said, "Yes, John-nee. Today we finds out who is Miss America."
Miss America turned out to be a dark bay fighting lady named Seven Thirty, who succeeded in winning the Delaware Handicap by the most desperate of heads from the far daintier Cicada. Seven Thirty is not really good looking and she has bad habits; she often gets herself in trouble, normally arrives home late and fits perfectly one of Sir Walter Scott's descriptions: "Vain as the leaf upon the stream, and fickle as a changeful dream." But what an apt name she has. Her father is Mr. Music, her mother is Time to Dine.
The Delaware Handicap is the biggest single race for fillies and mares in this country. It is run in the elmed quiescence of Delaware Park, seven miles outside of Wilmington. Traditionally it draws the best, and this year it outdid its long and proud history. The nine starters had accounted for 42 stake race victories and $1,700,000 in purses.
From the West came Linita, whom Longden himself compares favorably with two fine fillies of the recent past, Busher and Silver Spoon. From the East came Cicada, "the little bug," who has won more money than any filly or mare in history; Primonetta, the first foal ever sired by Swaps; Bramalea, the winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks, the filly equivalent of the Belmont Stakes. Seven Thirty came along, too, but most people thought she was only there for the exercise. Her owner, George D. Widener, who usually can be found wherever the most important races are run, didn't even bother to go to Delaware Park to watch her. He stayed instead in Newport, Rhode Island, doing whatever Wideners do when they don't go to the races.
Primonetta and Bramalea, an entry, were made quick favorites for the Delaware Handicap, and for sound reason. Primonetta is a front-runner who has enough gumption to keep up her speed over a mile and a quarter. Bramalea can be rated by her jockey, and saved for a formidable run from behind. If Primonetta were to fire and fall back, then Bramalea could come rolling on to win.
There was a certain amount of respect for Cicada, too. After all, in a lifetime of 26 starts she had never been out of the money. The betting public holds her in such esteem that she has been even money or less in 12 of her last 13 races. In the Delaware Handicap, however, she went away at nearly 4 to 1. Even her fondest followers were beginning to think she has been run too often.
Seven Thirty, while lightly considered by the public, was thought highly of by the horsemen. They had seen her get into more trouble than any horse should get herself into. "Talk up Cicada, Primonetta and Bramalea if you want," said Casey Hayes, the trainer of Cicada, "but don't talk down Seven Thirty. In most of her races she's had real rotten luck. She'd get bumped or boxed and by the time she could free herself and start running again it was too late to do any good."
When the starting gate opened, Primonetta scooted to the front as expected. Cicada was tracking her, though, and at the end of six furlongs Willie Shoemaker pushed Cicada past Primonetta and opened up a three-length lead. As Cicada came to the head of the stretch only one horse could possibly catch her—Seven Thirty.
Right from the start Jockey Larry Adams had kept Seven Thirty moving along the rail, defying the general belief among Delaware Park's jockeys that the surface along the inside of the track was deep, heavy and tiring. Before the race Adams had listened to everyone tell how tough it was to keep a horse moving on the inside. But Adams alone decided to find out if it was true. During the post parade he had an outrider take Seven Thirty to the inside. "I jogged and walked her and it didn't seem too deep to me at all," said Adams. "In fact, it felt good. Seven Thirty liked it."
When Adams saw Willie Shoemaker and Cicada stay a few feet away from the rail at the top of the stretch he knew his prerace experiment might just pay off. "I guess," said Shoemaker, "that we were about eight feet off the rail. I really believed that it was too deep on the inside and so I kept Cicada out." Adams brought Seven Thirty pounding into the narrow hole that Shoemaker had left open. Cicada and Seven Thirty fought it out from there in most unladylike fashion, and it was Seven Thirty who edged in front at the wire. "That mare," said Adams, "dug in and fought like she's supposed to. She didn't fool around, and she stayed out of trouble." Now that she's Miss America, maybe she'll keep minding her manners.