Bowie Race Course is not exactly renowned as a showcase for great thoroughbred talent, but today the track will stage a confrontation that local racing fans can savor.
Implausible as it may seem, the two fastest 2-year-olds in America are stabled on Bowie's dreary backstretch. Neither Century Prince nor Cure The Blues has ever been beaten or even seriously challenged. Today they finally meet at seven furlongs in the second division of the Marlboro Nursery Stakes, a race that will not only reveal their relative merits, but may indicate whether they have futures on the national racing scene.
The precocity of both these colts came as a surprise, even to their owners. Mr. and Mrs. Bert Firestone, who bred and raised Cure The Blues, ordinarily send their horses to trainer LeRoy Jolley in New York. But Cure The Blues was so unprepossessing that the Firestones shipped him to trainer Bernie Bond in Maryland -- the equivalent of optioning a ballplayer to a Class A farm club.
Bond trains his young horses hard and he has developed many successful 2-year-olds over the years. But even he was stunned by the performances of Cure the Blues. The colt made his career debut at Pimlico in April and won it by 10 lengths. After being sidelined by some routine ailments, he returned to competition at Bowie last month and won by 10 lengths again. Then, last Monday, he showed just how fast he is.
In a minor allowance race he ran six furlongs in 1:10 flat over the dull Bowie track -- an extraordinary effort. The fastest older sprinters in the state had usually been running in the vicinity of 1:11. Cure The Blues' race was by far the fastest run by any 2-year-old in the country, even the New York stakes horses who are popularly considered to the leading members of their generation.
As fast as he is, Cure The Blues has a worthy rival in Century Prince.
The colt's young trainer, Ron Alfano, and owner, Erwin Mendelson, have enjoyed enormous success in Maryland in the last two years, mostly with claiming stock. They aspired to upgrade the quality of their operation, and Mendelson took a modest step in this direction by purchasing an 80 percent interest in Century Prince for $27,000.
From the start of the animal's training, Alfano was excited about him. Even though he didn't have much experience dealing with high-class young horses, Alfano said, "He always showed signs of being a runner. He was a sensible colt. He was graceful, light on his feet."
Century Prince was fast on his feet, too, when he made the first start of his career at Bowie and won under wraps by seven lengths. Two weeks later Alfano entered the colt in a stake against some experienced competitors -- ordinarily a tough jump in class. But Century Prince outran rivals of established ability and won with ease in 1:10.4.
Many times horses will run brilliantly when they are not challenged, but will wilt when they are subjected to real competition and pressure. Today Cure The Blues and Century Prince will have their courage tested for the first time.
But the principal question about young horses like these, who show such great speed while winning sprints, is their stamina. Will they be able to run the distances at which championships are decided?
Cure The Blues was sired by Stop the Music, whose long-winded son, Temperence Hill, won this year's Belmont Stakes. So he seemingly has the credentials to win at a mile or more.
But Century Prince's bloodlines are suspect. He is by Rollicking, a Maryland stallion who is no sire of champions and whose offspring are usually endowed with more speed than stamina. While racing fans love the romantic stories about ill-bred horses who go on to achieve great success, such stories are few. Thoroughbreds rarely transcend their pedigrees.
Alfano is realistic enough to know that Century Prince's potential may be limited by his genes. But he can still hope, and today he will begin to learn just how good a horse he has.