Forego, defeated twice and embarrassed once in his last three starts under extreme high weight, begins a drive designed to earn him a fourth straight Horse of the Year title Saturday at Belmont Park.
The race is the $181,000 Woodward Handicap, which Forego won in 1974, 1975 and 1976. Another victory in this 1 1/8-mile event would increase his earnings to $1,927,557, within $50,339 of Kelso'srecord $1,977,896.
Forego's task is formidable despite the fact he is carrying "only" 133 pounds, his lightest burden in a distance handicap since the spring of 1976.
J. O. Tobin, the flashy 3-year-old that ended Seattle Slew's undefeated streak in the Swap Stakes at Hollywood Park this summer, gets in the Woodward under 121 pounds. Majestic Light, winner of three consecutive stakes in increasingly impressive fashion, is assigned 128 pounds while two horses with 1977 conquest of Forego to their credit are back for another try as lightweights. They are Great Contractor and Quiet Little Table, carrying 115 pounds apiece.
Completing the field of 14 are Affiliate, 114 pounds; Silver Series, 114; Tacitus, 108; Proud Birdie, 114; Sawbones, 110; Capital Idea, 108; Wise Philip, 110; Co Host, 109 and Cinteelo, 116.
The Woodward and the secondary feature on the program, the $54,450 Lawrence Realization Stakes for 3-year-olds on the grass, will be televised nationally by CBS.
Exactly how many of the 13 rivals entered against Forego will start depends on the weather. It rained here sporadically this afternoon. More precipitation is forecast tonight.
Majestic Light's trainer is hoping for a tight track; enough rain to make the sandy racing surface firmer. Otherwise, Majestic Light will be scratched. Cintello will compete only if the track is sloppy. There is even a question about Forego's status should rain make conditions too sloppy.
On Aug. 6 at Saratoga Forego finished last in the Whitney Handicap. The track was sloppy Saratoga's surface contains more leam and becomes much heavier when it rains, however, than Belmont's. Forego has won here over what officially has been labeled a sloppy track, most notably in last fall's Marlboro Cup.
J. O. Tobin and the good 3-year-old Silver Series and Affiliate appeared to be ready for anything. Tobin, named for a 99-year-old former San Francisco bank president, probably will be the second choice to Forego. A champion in England at 2, the Kentucky-bred son of Never Bend finished fifth to Seattle Slew in the Preakness before squaring accounts with the Triple Crown winner six weeks later on his home ground in California.
Quiet Little Table ended Forego's fourth unsuccessful bid for the Handicap Triple Crown this spring by gaining a neck decision in the Suburban. Forego carried 138 pounds that afternoon, then carried 137 when Great Contractor romped by 11 lengths over him in the Brooklyn.
"There is a seven-pound shift in Forego's favor," Roger Laurin, the trainer of Great Contractor, noted today, adding, "Forego has worked well. The distance is one of his best, I'm certainly not ready to write him off. He is 7, and he'll not be getting any younger, but the biggest part of the betting will still be behind him."
Great Contractor's specialty appears to be winning stakes run over 1 1/2 miles. The 4-year-old colt scored in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last October, then ran poorly in seven races before taking the Brooklyn.
"I ran him in seven-furlong claiming races as a 2-year-old for $30,000 to $35,000," Laurin commented. "And if he had to run seven-eights for a living he would still be a claimer. The longer the distance the better he likes it."
The Woodward's nine furlongs might well be too short, particularly since Great Contractor has not seen any race action since the Brooklyn on July 23.
Seattle Slew was not nominated to the Woodward. One of his owners Dr. Jim Hill, has been suspended by the New York Racing and Wagering Board through Sept. 27 for having failed properly to disclose his financial interest in the colt.