Raise A Native worked this morning down the backstretch at Belmont Park," the late Charles Hatton once wrote.
"The trees swayed."
When 11 entries were drawn yesterday morning for Saturday's 104th Kentucky Derby - one of the strongest fields in many years - there was a decided tilt in the direction of Spendthrift Farm, where Raise A Native stands at stud.
Calumet Farm's Alydar, the even-money favorite, is a son of the fabled Native Dancer's finest breeding son. Affirmed, the second choice, is a grandson, through Exclusive Native, of Raise A Native. Sensitive Prince, the undefeated third choice, is another grandson, through 1969 Kentucky Derby winner Majestic Prince.
"I guess, in human terms, Alydar would be Affirmed's uncle and Affirmed and Sensitive Prince would be kissin' cousins," Cousin Leslie Combs, the owner of Spendthrift, observed. "We'll take 'em 1-2-3, in any order, or even 1-2-3-4, 'cause we have Esops Foibles in there, too. He's by Nashua, another of our stallions. Nashua is 26, but he's still doin' the job."
Raise A Native's impact on tomorrow's race is obvious. He has put a halt, at least temporarily, to the dominant role Bold Ruler has played in this decade's Derby's. And it's a little surprising. Not too many years ago, horsemen considered Raise A Native's offspring, while exceptionaly fast, to be lacking in the endurance needed to run a distance and the soundness required to stand up under heavy training.
"Oh, that was another thing taken out of proportion," Combs said. But the commercial breeder's son, Brownell, acknowledged that, "Anytime a trainer would first work a Raise A Native, he would think he had lightning in a bottle. They had so much speed trainers couldn't wait, they couldn't resist the temptation to pound them too much too early, not giving them a chance to mature. That's why so many broke down so soon."
Raise A Native, as Hatton chronicle so beautifully, was a very fast horse. Only Ruffian and Graustark were his equal for sheer speed.
"He won all four of his races as a 2-year-old, but was injured in his last start and was retired," Leslie Combs recalled. The owner, Louis Wolfson, had purchased the colt for $39,000 at the 1962 Saratoga yearling sales. Now Wolfson owns Affirmed, last season's champion 2-year-old that has captured 11 of 13 starts and, with $700,127, has earned more money than any other runner going into a Derby.
Spendthrift's 1974 breeding cards show that Wolfson's mare Won't Tell You was bred to his Exclusive Native March 14. The Calumet mare Sweet Tooth was bred to Raise A Native April 11. Joseph Taub's mare, Sensitive Lady, was bred to Majestic Prince April 14.
Affirmed was foaled Feb. 21, 1975, in Florida. Alydar was born March 23 at Calumet, near Lexington, while Sensitive Prince first saw the light of day April 1, in Maryland. Combs will not be shocked if they finish in that order, although he has too much breeding to pick one of his stallion's horses over another.
"If the track is fast, it could be Affirmed," he said. "If the track is off a little, it could be Alydar. And if those two don't watch out, Sensitive Prince could steal off and beat both of them, or Esops Foibles might come along at the finish and catch 'em all."
Alydar and Affirmed staged perhaps the greatest rivalry in the history of 2-year-old racing last season. They met six times, over a total of 41 furlongs, and were virtually even at the end of more than five miles of competition.
Affirmed won four of those six races, including the three close finishes. Alydar is perceived to have matured a little better over the winter, winning four races in Florida and Kentucky while Affirmed won four races in California. The Calumet colt also is believed to be a bit better suited for the Derby's 1 1/4 miles. His stretch runs are in the great tradition that has brought Calumet eight Derby victories.
Sensitive Prince is six for six allthough relatively untested for quality and distance ability when compared with the top two. He is trained by the magical, almost mystical, Allen Jerkens, a man whose specialty has been defeating superior runners such as Kelso (with Beau Purple) Buckpasser (with Handsome Boy) and Secretariat (with Onion and Prove Out).
Believe It lost to Alydar in the Flamingo and Florida Derby this winter. But he appears to be coming up to the race splendidly for veteran trainer Woody Stephens, as his success in the recent Wood Memorial attests. "He's even better now than he was in the Wood," Stephens said of the colt owned by Mr. and Mrs. James P. Mills of Middleburg, Va. Many observers will not be shocked if Believe It finally silences the skeptics.
Believe it downed Alydar in the sloppy going of the Remsen Stakes last November at Aqueduct. There is a strong possibility the Churchill strip will be sloppy tomorrow, as it was yesterday following heaving overnight rain. The forecast includes continued occasional showers. Stephens is hoping for an off track.
Esops Foibles captured the Louisiana and Arkansas derbys. Darby Creek Road will be closing. Raymond Earl is the early speed, ridden by 57-year old R. L. Baird. Hosie The Silver has Pacific Northwest ownership similar to the group that last spring gave the Derby Seattle Slew. Chief of Dixieland and Dr. Valeri have a history of getting part of the purses. Special Honor was the only entrant. He finished sixth in the Blue Grass Stakes last week, 18 lengths behind Alydar.
Steve Cauthen, who turned 18 Monday, rides Affirmed. Jorge Velasquez has the mount on Alydar, while Mickey Solomohe guides Sensitive Prince and Eddie Maple pilots Believe It.
Sensitive Prince drew the outside stall in the starting gate, a slight disadvantage. Affirmed, in No. 2, also will have to come out running. Believe It has post 9 while Alydar is sitting perfectly, in No. 10.
With 11 starters, the race will grose $239,400, including $186,900 to the victor. All runners carry 126 pounds. ABC will tlevise the event nationally from 5 until 6 p. m. EST. Post time is 5:38.