Each year on the eve of the running of the rich Garden State, which is supposed to decide the 2-year-old championship as well as the winter book favorite for the following season's Kentucky Derby, track boss Eugene Mori throws a mighty bash at the nearby Cherry Hill Inn. At these functions trainers and owners spend much of the time swapping polite lies, telling each other half-truths and, fortified by the good juices that flow from a multitude of portable bars all over the joint, trying to convince themselves that miracles still happen on the racetrack.
Last Friday evening at the Cherry Hill Inn most of the conversation naturally centered around Steve Wilson's champion pro tern, Top Knight, who had smothered his fields in the East's three top juvenile races—the Hopeful, the Futurity and the Champagne—while winning close to $300,000. Trainer Ray Metcalf was hardly one to disguise his optimism. "Sure, I think he should win," he said between trips to the dance floor. "And if we have any luck I know we will win."
Eddie Neloy, who trains Beau Brummel for Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps, was slightly more cautious: "Of course, I think Top Knight is the best colt. He beat my two best, Reviewer and King Emperor, so I gave them a rest for awhile. But I have to take a shot at this colt with Beau Brummel, because he keeps improving all the time. He's never won a stakes but he's never been out of the money in seven starts. Also, he's won here while Top Knight hasn't raced on this track. Beau Brummel is by Round Table, whose get usually are slower than some to mature. He must be conceded some chance of beating Top Knight. Some chance, not a big one."
When the field of 10 set off after the gross purse of $312,660 under overcast skies last Saturday afternoon, Top Knight was the 2-to-5 favorite. With lukewarm benevolence the crowd of 27,707 installed Beau Brummel as the 9-to-2 second choice. But for a few moments it looked as if neither colt would get to the finish line when it counted most. Distinctive and Stretchapoint barreled out in front, while Manuel Ycaza had Top Knight back in sixth place, and Braulio Baeza, aboard Beau Brummel, had just one horse beaten going into the clubhouse turn.
"My God," moaned Metcalf as he watched Ycaza wrestling around in the middle of the pack with Top Knight. "If I was riding the horse, I'd sure be keeping him much closer to the pace than that. This is not one of the jock's best rides."
At that point Ycaza knew it would not be one of Top Knight's best races. "I don't know if it could be a tendon bothering him or what," said Manuel later, "but all the way he kept switching leads, changing strides and doing a certain amount of climbing. From the half-mile pole I was trying to get him to lay up closer, but he had no punch. We had clear sailing, but my colt just didn't react."
Baeza had no such problems with Beau Brummel. "I had to take him back slightly in the first turn," he said, "but after that he settled down nicely for me. I drifted out with him a bit going into the far turn to get clear running room, and the rest he did on his own." And how he did. Beau Brummel steamed into the stretch in fifth place, took the lead at the 16th pole and won, drawing away, by nearly two lengths. Stretchapoint, who had been first or second all the way, held on to be second, just a nose in front of Top Knight, with Prevailing fourth.
Beau Brummel covered the mile and 1/16th in a fair 1:44 3/5, but the way he finished was significant. Now, of course, he must be reckoned with in the coming 3-year-old campaign. When he, Reviewer and King Emperor start running at Hialeah, the Phipps empire should win a big share of the Florida purses. And that's not all. "Every stable," says Neloy, "likes to kid about having a better one back in the barn, and in our case it may be true. We also have a Bold Ruler colt named King of the Castle, who was awfully slow to break his maiden, but I have a mysterious faith in him. He could be the best of the bunch."
Faith is what kept Beau Brummel in top company, too. "Why, a year ago," says Neloy, "I didn't think this colt was worth five cents. He was last string in our stable, not just third string. If he wasn't so well-bred, he would have been running in claimers."
The 1968 Garden State was no claimer, and now Beau Brummel goes to Florida with a performance record to match his breeding. If he is the colt to bring the Phipps family its first Kentucky Derby winner, he will have to beat, among others, the undefeated Canadian champion Viceregal, a son of Northern Dancer owned by E.P. Taylor, Fleet Allied, Fleet Kirsch, Dike, Pellinore, Drone and True North. And then there's also his own stablemate still in the barn. Don't forget him.