There was a beautiful moment in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland yesterday, even though Calumet Farm's Alydar made a farce of the race.
The probable favorite for the Kentucky Derby was six lengths behind Raymond Earl early at the far turn when jockey Jorge Velasquez asked him to run. Alydar, favored at 1-10, responded smartly and quickly gained on the tiring pacesetter.
Then, just as Gene and Lucille Markey, the Calumet owners, were able to climb from their green station wagon for a brief glimpse of the action, Alydar went into the lead leaving the quarter-mile pole and continued on to score by 13 1/4 lengths.
Admiral and Mrs. Markey are in their 80s and in failing health. They seldom attend the races any more but for Alydar they made an exception. This, after all, is the horse they bred on their farm located a mile from the Keeneland course, and the horse that now figures to be a slight favorite over. Affirmed May 6 at Churchill Downs. If successful, Alydar would be Calumet's ninth Derby winner.
Trainer John Veitch and jockey Jorge Velasquez talked with the Markey's briefly after the official ceremonies.
"They said they were tickled to death to have been able to see what they did," Veitch reported. "They said it was a job well done. I told them the big job still remains."
Alydar encountered only two troublesome moments yesterday. He was not prepared for the start and lunged from the gate. Velasquez permitted the colt a few extra strides to pull himself together, then was content to lay far off the pace until midway up the backstretch. Once the jockey popped the question, however, there was no doubt as to the outcome. The opposition was extremely weak.
The victor ran the 1 1-8 miles in 1:49 3/5. Veitch was happy with the time - "the track was listed fast, but it was heavy" - and the world in general until Alydar reached the infield winner's circle. That's when a photographer played a recorded tape of a mare's whinny, and Veitch took a verbal shot at the photographer.
"Okay, that's enough pictures," the young trainer snapped. "Get him (the horse) out of here."
Later, Veitch said: "There's absolutely no excuse for that kind of nonsense. They do it in order to get the horse's ears to prick (to stand up, for a better picture). It's ridiculous and it's dangerous. I'm going to have my say about this sort of nonsense."
Otherwise, Veitch had nothing to be upset about, although the track management did. Keeneland restricted the betting by the 22,512 crowd to win and place positions but still suffered a minus win pool of $9,822.75 and a minus place pool of $25,253.70.
Alydar paid $2.20 and $2.20, Raymond Earl $2.20. Go Forth finished third in the field of nine, a nose behind the runner-up, with Sunny Songster nearly two lengths out of the money. The odds on the 2-3.4 were 28, 52 and 60 to 1.
The victory was the fourth in four outings this season for Alydar. Affirmed also is four for four and Sensitive Prince is unbeaten. Affirmed edged Alydar in four of their six meetings last year and was voted the Eclipse Award as the nation's top 2-year-old.
Still, Alydar probably will rate the nod in the Derby betting because of the distance, 1 1/4 miles, which lends itself to his strong closing punch. The Alydar camp also is quite confident, while Affirmed's people seem to be less certain when they talk of the two 3-year-olds.
"Am I worried? Not at all," Velasquez said. "I have the best horse.
"Like, today, I moved a little earlier and a little stronger at the half-mile pole than I had planned to because I saw that horse on the lead was pretty far out there. I hit Alydar two or three times to keep Alydar's mind on his business through the stretch . . . The only problem was he wasn't standing quite right at the start, which was maybe why he got off a bit slow."
Veitch immediately checked Alydar's legs to make sure he had not nicked or cut himself leaving the gate.
"They were clean," the trainer said. "Everything looks just right. This race couldn't have taken too much out of him. I'm very happy with it. We'll go to Churchill Downs Friday or Saturday."