This year's Washington, D.C. International wound up being little more than the perfect prelude to Saturday's first running of the $200,000 Turf Classic at Aqueduct.
Majestic Light had won the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park and Exceller had captured the Canadian International Championship at Woodbridge prior to Laurel's Nov. 5 event. The International was to have been decisive in settling the dispute over the National Grass Championships. Except that a 3-year-old named Johnny D., after finishing third in both the Man o' War and the Canadian race, ran off and embarrassed his older conquerors in the International at odds of 10 to 1.
Thus the New York Racing Association got lucky in a hurry with its new attraction. Majestic Light, Exceller and Johnny D. dominate a field of nine entered in the 1 1/2 miles of the Turf Classic, which will be televised nationally by CBS (CBS Spectacular, beginning 4:30 on WTOP-Channel 9). Exceller and Majestic Light carry 126 pounds each under the weight-for-age conditions while Johnny D. carries 122.
Lester Piggott replaces Angel Cordero on Exceller with Sandy Hawley riding Majestic Light and Steve Cauthen aboard Johnny D. Cauthen went briskly about his business in the International while Hawley and Cordero were overly concerned with each other's position. By the time Majestic Light took out after Johnny D. it was too late.
I have a strong feeling Hawley will not make that mistake again. Majestic Light is going to be favored in the Turf Classic and, in all probability, will win the $100,000 first-prize and the 1977 Eclipse Award as the nation's most dynamic daisy-cutter.
All of which does not preclude the possibility that Johnny D. can spring another surprise. Certainly a Middleburg, Va., attorney, Verne Hosta, and his wife, Sally, can be excused for hoping so.
The Hostas own Dusk, the dam of Johnny D. They bought her privately for $18,000 after she had failed to bring her reserve price of $20,000 at a sale of breeding stock in Lexington, Ky.
"Mereworth Farm bred Dusk in Kentucky," Verne Hosta said recently from his Middleburg office. "She was unraced. Her first foal was by Indian Emerald and has earned something like $125. Peggy Augustus bought Dusk in foal to Stage Door Johnny for $37,000.
"We noticed that when Johnny D. was sold as a yearling, at Saratoga, he brought $20,000, which was about twice what the Stage Door Johnny's were averaging at the time. Dusk's first foal, a Cyane filly, had brought $32,000. It struck us that here was young Olden Times mare who was outselling herself. The mares by Olden Times were a hot commodity, so we bought her."
That probably will be the best purchase the Hostas ever made. They have only three mares on their Faraway Farm near Middleburg but they want to become commercial breeders and Dusk has them off to a bright start.
"We just turned down $200,000 for her," Hosta acknowledged. "We don't intend to sell her. She is our foundation mare. We can breed her to just about any stallion now. Dusk has a filly by T.V. Commercial. She is in foal to Cyane, and she will be going back to Stage Door Johnny again next spring.
"After that we would like to get her to Hoist The Flag, who has sired some good grass horses, or maybe to Northern Dancer. But Northern Dancer costs $50,000 up front, and his book is full.That's steep."
Well, no one ever said thoroughbred breeding was a game for paupers. The bloodstock market has never been any stronger than it is today.
Classic and take the Turf Eclipse Award away from Majestic Light, Dusk's value would increase a little bit more. Already, the young mare has done beautifully for her new owners. Indeed, in the madcap social whirl of high horse society, the Hostas have one of three mostas, and they've only just begun.