Bemo, the ugly suckling, looked absolutely beautiful to his Middleburg, Va., owner here today in leading throughout the $100,000 United Nations Handicap.
"He was so ugly when he was young it was embarrassing to have him on our (Hickory Tree) farm, Mrs. James P. Mills confided shortly after leaving the winner's circle. "His head so enormous when he was a young horse. His body was all pushed together, like an accordion. I wanted to get rid of him."
Today, competing against only four rivals in one of America's most prestigious turf events, Bemo provided Jockey Don Brumfield with sweet music, wire to wire.
"There was no early speed. We were in the lead, in a common gallop," Brumfield commented about the :49 3/3 1:36 1/3 pace that helped the victor reach the end of the 1-3/16 miles in 1:54, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the favored Quick Card. Alias Smith finished third with Hunza Dancer, the second choice, fourth.
Bemo paid $11.40 straight on the occasion of his biggest victory. Quick Card had beaten him in their last three meetings, but the weights shifted sharply in Bemo's favor this afternoon. He carried obly 116 pounds to 124 on Quick card.
"This horse has had an unusual history," trainer Jimmy Murphy said. "He's run every two years. He didn't compete as a 2-year-old, then missed his 4-year-old and 6-year-old seasons because of bowed tendons. He's raced at 3, 5 and 7."
Early at 3, Bemo was dropped into a $12,500 claiming race. The bay Maribeau gelding had been slow to develop and Mrs. Mills, never impressed by the horse's appearance, thought it might be a good idea to run him in a claiming even again.
"That's when Jimmy said we shouldn't do it again," she recalled. "He said Bemo had stumbled coming out of the gate and had passed 10 horses. He said we should give him another chance. Which is what we continued to do.
"Bemo, I guess, is a testament to good home nursing, patience, and what our good Virginia soil can do for a race horse."
Four of the nine horses originally entered in this 25th runnnning of the United Nations were scrateched. Dan Horn and All Friends were withdrawn early. They competed in the Bumson as did Break Up The Game, which Handicap at Monmouth Park instead, was scratched here this morning, Grackle also came out of the U.N.
Bemo also was entereed in the Rumson but stayed here, where the purse money was twice as much. That turned out to be a profitable decision.
"Once all the scratches were in, there was no speeed in the race," Murphy noted. "We didn't particularly want the lead, but there was no one else who did, either, so Don had little choice."
Bemo quickly darted to the front, ahead of Alias Smith. Quick Card joined Alias Smith nearest the pace, to the far turn, where both horses tried to challenge Bemo. The winner led by two lengths on the turn over Quick Card, by one length in mid-stretch - then stretched out to win going away.
Quick Card had not raced since July 23. Hunza Dancer had been out of competition since July 25. That 5-year-old, sent off at 3 to 2 - Quick Card was 6 to 5 - never entered serious contention.
This was the only daylight program of the Atlantic City meeting. The 83-date session closesd today with a pathetic holiday turnout of 8,730. The track is less than even-money to survive into the '80s.