The horseracing business has been occupied this week, searching the depths of equine lore for a reason why Honest Pleasure will not win tomorrow's Run For The Roses at Churchill Downs. Like the champion's recent competitors, however, the experts have been coming up short.
Bertram Fireston's three-year-old has done it all so far, winning at every asking and impressively at that. Though lightly raced in his young career, Honest Pleasure has yet to be really tested in any of his races, lending credence to the belief that he is every bit as good as his Racing Form chart indicates.
Stock in the horse's ability has risen constantly this week, bolstered by suggestions to the effect that he may be "too fast for his own good" and that "his speed can't be controlled" during a race. Barring disaster, such as the horse staying out late for a few drinks the night before the big race, it is difficult for most observers to picture Honest Pleasure losing the 1976 Kentucky Derby.
Most recently, trainer Leroy Jolley sent the son of Whatapleasure out for some air in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a race in which it took jockey Braulio Baeza's choking hold on the horse to keep him from motoring away from a lackluster field. Prior to that, Honest Pleasure captured the Florida Derby virtually uncontested, eased up at the end of a mile in 1:47 4/5.
For those who have been out of the country recently and haven't heard, a Laz Barrera-trained speedster named Bold Forbes is considered by one and all to be the competition for Honest Pleasure in the Derby. he has the credentials to pull the upset; it remains to be seen whether or not he has the endurance.
Bold Forbes cruised to an impressive win the Bay Shore a while back, then sizzled the nine furlongs of the Wood Memorial in New York two weekends ago, routing a field of Derby hopefuls in the record time of 1:47 2/5. On The Sly (finishing second) and Cojak (fifth) trailed the Puerto Rican speedball in that one, and will be seeing him again when post time rolls around tomorrow.
The most popular beat-the-favorite theory being kicked around this week is the old chesnut known as the "front-end speed duel." Not being known for their ability to hold back and conserve some stretch running energy, both Honest Pleasure and Bold Forbes are likely to end up in front, racing each other until death do them part. Theoretically, the rest of the field benefits from this, and mops up the two tiring frontrunners in the stretch. Sounds plausible, but things don't always work out that way.
Chances are that the two favorites are simply faster than the rest of the field and, tired or not, one of them is likely to hit the wire before the others even get into gear. But should the speed-duel theorists be right, there are some qualified candidates waiting to pick up the pieces and a few roses as well.
Johnny Campo's Play The Red gets handicapped here as the Horse Most Likely in this situation. Campo has a reputation for coming up with surprises, and Play The Red will be just that if he manages to run down the top two tomorrow.
Elocutionist, winner of the Arkansas Derby, is another horse who is garnering upset consideration. Trained by E.C. Cashman, Elocutionist also captured the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulf-stream Park, and has the potential to take advantage of a rapid early pace with his late rally tactics.
Similarly situated is On The Sly, whose big move in the Wood carried him from last place to second in the stretch, five lengths behind Bold Forbes. The added distance tomorrow (the Derby is one furlong longer than the Wood) figures to help, but exactly how much is debatable.
That leaves Cojak, Inca Roca, Amano, and Bidson for those who like to think big, as in big payoff. More unusual things have happened.
The entire Derby field is of a higher caliber than most people will give it credit for, and that probably includes Honest Pleasure. One thing is for sure: He will take some beating tomorrow.