Early each January, a column is devoted to 'The Year That Will Be' in thoroughbred racing. Nothing looms so exceptional about this year that an exception should be made for the custom. So here goes, never forgetting that it is easier to forget than to forgive, and what is past is prologue, or something.
Winter - a blizzard strikes Bowie, leaving eight feet of snow by Jan. 31. The riders refuse to ride on Feb. 1, when the infield tote board is buried by snow, but the jockers agree to stage sled races from the quarter pole to the finish line. Gregg McCarron wins four of the nine events, paying $14.40, $8.80, $4.20 and $2.40 in general manager Al Karwacki's handbook. Delay wins the $100,000 Campbell, when the meeting resumes. Banquet Table takes the Florida Derby at Gulf-stream. Bunker Hunt, miffed at being overlooked by the racing industry, announces plans to buy up all of America's major racetracks.
Visible edges Habitony in the Santa Anita Derby. For the Moment gets home first in Hialeah's Flamingo and Do The Bump grinds out a narrow victory in the Swift at Aqueduct. The Maryland commission announces a massive investigation into veteriniarians' massive use of Lasix as a possible masking agent for prohibited drugs. Hunt buys Hollywood Park and threatens to purchase France unless that country rescinds its ban against competition from American-bred horses.
Spring - The Treasury Department agrees to a compromise concerning the tax takeout on-track. Congress then passes a measure calling for 20 per cent of all winnings at odds of 300 to 1 or over to be collected directly at the cashiers' windows. A Hyattsville taxi driver leads bettors in a march on the IRS, followed by leaders of the American Horse Council, but all wind up having dinner in the Pimlico clubhouse. Cormorant captures the Arkansas Derby but Seattle Slew scores by 15 lengths in the Wood Memorial and becomes the odds-on favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat's colts disappoint in their early appearances but the young sire's fillies are sensational. Run Dusty Run holds on by a nose over Royal Ski in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. Dan Lasater's stable passes $3 million in earnings for the season, on May 1.
Grover Delp, King Leatherbury and Richard Dutrow set a Pimlico record by sadding four horses each in a sprint for $5,000 claimers, but Tuffy Hacker's horse wins the race, with Bill Passmore riding. Hunt buys Hialeah and donates the land to the Audubon Society. Bailjumper breezes to an easy victory in the 102d Kentucky Derby, then adds the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes to his undefeated record, becoming the 10th winner of the Triple Crown series.
Summer - Telly's Pop returns to action on the West Coast. Co-owner Telly Savalas announces plans to retire as an actor, to become a trainer. Hunt purchases Saratoga and Oaklawn Park. Racing secretary Larry Abbunditis named chief scout for the Washington Capitals.
Forego forges to the front in the Metropolitan Mile, under 139 pounds. Mrs. Warren sweeps the Acorn, Mother Goose and CCA Oaks over stablemate Sensational. Hunt sells a Secretariat filly at the Kenneland yearling auction for $1,500,001. Interstate off-track gambling is banned by Congress.
The Thoroughbred Racing Associations begin a move to impeach President Carter over his alleged preference for stock car competition. Bill Schwadron is voted mayor of Charles Town, enabling Fendall Claggett to replace him as general manager of the West Virginia track. Forego wins the Brookland under 140 pounds but fails again in his bid to complete the Handicap Triple Crown, losing by a nose to Honest Pleasure (carrying 124) in the suburban. Hunt gains control of Arlington Park. The Meadowlands begins night thoroughbred racing in northern New Jersey. New York responds by threatening to close the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington and Verrazano bridges.
Fall - Maryland finally sanctions blood testing for Lasix. Dance Spell takes the Woodward, that once-great event now being a seven-furlong stake for nonwinners of three races in one season other than maiden or claiming. Optimistic Gal, Revidere and Proud Delta finish in a three-way dead heat at the end of the Beldame. Hunt secures Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie, Santa Anita and Gulfstream, plus Garden State and Monmouth Park and a controlling interest in Daily Racing Form.
The New York Racing Association then gives Belmont Park to the Texas oil billionaire to see if he can operate it successfully against Meadowlands. He can't. King Pellinore, in from the West Coast, strolls to victory in the Man o' War. A Secretariat filly named Pretty Penny defeats two Damascus and three Graustark colts in the Champagne. Chick Lang is appointed general manager of Aqueduct, the last major track not owned by Hunt.
Forego strides to his fourth straight Horse of the Year title, winning the Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cut and increasing his earnings to $2,222,222. A 2-year-old ridgeling from Ethiopia stuns the Washington, D.C. International at 136 to 1. Bowie reveals the purchase of eight helicopters to help dry out its racing strip at the next winner meeting. Karwacki gets a pilot's license. Fire Control captures the Colonial Steeplechase, thereby earning the Eclipse Award denied him for 1976.
Nelson Bunker Hunt is named thoroughbred racing's Man of the year for 1977. The Eclipse dinner is to be held in Dallas, or wherever Hunt wants.