There's no question that the Gotham was an excellent race for both Dr. Fager and Damascus. They completely outclassed the field. The perennial bridesmaid, Reason to Hail, was five lengths back in third place and the Wheatley hope, Bold Monarch, put in another disappointing performance, to finish seventh. Dr. Fager's winning time of 1:35[1/5] was respectable enough, considering the shifting condition of the track. Frank Whiteley, who trains Damascus, was naturally disappointed at losing, but he has never been much of an optimist. "He ran well," observed Whiteley afterward, "but not well enough. I didn't give Shoemaker a single instruction and, because he knows this horse, I never would. Next time around I hope things will be different, because I know Damascus is a good horse."
Because he is still relatively green, it is likely that the Gotham will help Damascus considerably. The next time the chances are that Shoemaker will not have to hurry his mount excessively during the early part of the race, giving him more of a finishing kick. On the other hand, in looking only as far ahead as the Wood, who is to say that any horse will improve in one week's time after a race that was as hard-fought and taxing as last week's Gotham?
Successor, bred and raised at nearby Claiborne Farm, was the natural odds-on, 7-to-10 favorite in the Spendthrift at Keeneland, despite his fourth-place finish in the Swift at Aqueduct on March 13. Driven out of New York by bad weather and the possibility of an extended horse owners' boycott, Successor beelined to Kentucky for his final Derby preparations. And it may have been the right move, for he now has 12 days between his good Spendthrift effort and the April 27 Blue Grass Stakes at a mile and an eighth. At his best it is hard to imagine Successor losing to anyone in his age group at seven furlongs, and it could be that he has not yet regained his best 1966 form. This should not, however, detract one iota from Ruken's victory in his first start since he won the Santa Anita Derby six weeks ago. In Kentucky, where it is fashionable to put the knock on California horses, veteran horsemen had to admit that Ruken is probably a lot better than many of them had previously thought. Ruken, of course, had more seasoning than Successor but he also demonstrated in the Spendthrift—as he often has done before—that he is a Derby type of runner. Coming from off the pace and circling his field with long, sweeping strides, he made up an enormous amount of ground on the stretch turn, and after passing Calumet's leading Balouf he had opened up two lengths at the eighth pole. Only then did Successor, who had been running third, put in his own quick bid—which fell short by a nose. Successor will now stay on at Keeneland for the Blue Grass and a possible meeting with such horses as Tumble Wind, Diplomat Way, Grand Premiere and Ask The Fare. Ruken will take a different course to the Derby. He will run next in the Stepping Stone, another seven-furlong race, on Churchill Downs' opening day, April 29. "I've had a lot of luck," says Ruken's trainer, Clyde Turk, "running horses in distance races off sprints."
With these developments at Aqueduct and Keeneland last week, there might be a tendency to forget some of the winter stars—who may or may not still be stars. Reflected Glory, for example, the Flamingo winner and Florida Derby disappointment, had such a sore left shin last week that he had to miss the Gotham, and it is questionable if he will make it back in time for the Wood. "He was that way after the Flamingo, however," says Trainer Hirsch Jacobs, "but came out of it O.K. His shins weren't an excuse in the Florida Derby, in which he finished seventh. In that one the boy, Jorge Velasquez, just gave him a bad ride. Instead of coming from way back, which is the way this colt likes to run, he had him up there too close too soon. Now he's got real shin trouble, and there's no way of knowing if he'll get over it in time for the Wood or not. It's a day-today thing with him."
In Reality, the Florida Derby winner, is another question mark. Trainer Sunshine Calvert, who has never been convinced that In Reality is a classic horse, has been surprisingly noncommittal about his intentions. He shipped In Reality to New Jersey's Garden State this week—a strange way of getting from Miami to Louisville—and won't make a decision about the Derby until the last possible moment, until he sees what happens to the New York horses in the Wood and to a few others in this week's Blue Grass prep, the Forerunner at Keeneland.
Lurking behind all this in-and-out bunch is a second division, made up of such types as Gentleman James, Proviso, Lightning Orphan, Cool Reception and Dawn Glory. So if anyone says the 1967 Derby is an absolute lock for any one colt he should have his head examined. And if an operation is needed one could do worse than get in touch with Dr. Charles Fager in Boston. Johnny Nerud knows the number.