"Do you have an empty stall?" owner Bert Firestone asked trainer Bernie Bond Earlier this year, seeking a home for a colt named Cure The Blues. "This one looks like he won't make it."
At this time, the 2-year-old never had raced, but he already had been subjected to intensive, expert scrutiny. He flunked every inspection. No one who laid eyes on him in his first year could have imagined that this animal might be the most gifted member of his equine generation. Cure The Blues would provide living proof that horses can make fools of us all.
Firestone had raised the colt and sent him to trainer LeRoy Jolley, developer of champions like Genuine Risk and Foolish Pleasure, a man who has as astute an eye for a horse as anyone in the country. Jolley detected no virtues in Cure The Blues, and ordered him relegated to the minor leagues -- the Maryland tracks.
Thus did Cure The Blues come into the care of Bond, a man who also has a keen eye for horseflesh castoffs every year. He didn't think much of his new acquisition. Cure The Blues was unruly and ornery, qualities that might have been forgiven except that he was slow, too.
One day at Bowie, Bond sent the colt out to work in company with a filly he considered the worst 2-year-old in his barn. She beat Cure The Blues by four lengths.
"No wonder Jolley didn't want this S.O.B.," Bond told the exercise girl.
Still, Bond wasn't abandoning all hope. He likes to train young horses, and he has done it very well over the years in Maryland, developing good 2-year-olds such as Rollicking and Irish Tower. He does this by giving his charges a taste of actual racing conditions in the mornings. So one day he equipped the recalcitrant Cure The Blues with blinkers (which tend to help a horse's concentration) and told the exercise rider, "Make him do something. Hit this sucker in the tail."
The exercise rider hit Cure The Blues in the designated area, and the colt took off like a jet. He covered half a mile in 46 seconds flat, which is about as fast as young horses ever work.
"Right then, you knew he could run," Bond said. "I knew it was time to bear down and get serious."
What Bond saw in the workout that day, Marylanders have seen each of the four times that Cure The Blues has run. The colt won his debute by 10 lengths, captured his next start by 10 and the next by seven. Last week, he made his first stakes appearance, meeting another unbeaten and well-regarded local 2-year-old named Century Prince, and demolished him by five lengths. Cure The Blues never has been touched with a whip in competition, and yet he has run consistently faster than any member of his age group in the country.
When he runs in Saturday's rich Laurel Futurity, he will get the chance to answer two of the remaining questions about him. He will show whether he can go beyond a mile, and whether he can beat horses of established class. If the answers are affirmative, Cure The Blues will win the nation's 2-year-old Championship and establish himself as the long-range favorite for next season's 3-year-old classics.
In the process, he also will be creating a dilemma, one that already has Maryland racetrackers gossipping and speculating.
LeRoy Jolley has a better record than any trainer in America for managing 3-year-olds through the Triple Crown series.Firestone presumably would want his first-string trainer to handle Cure The Blues next year. But would he take the colt away from the man who developed him, who made him into a champion after Jolley gave up on him?
"I'm certain I'll be able to keep him as long as I want," Bond declared yesterday. He said he might not be able to accompany the colt to Flordia during the winter because of the demands of his large Maryland operation, but assumed that he could if he chose to. "I think the only way Mr. Firestone would take him away," Bond said, "is if I would volunteer to give him up."
Bond said he has not thought much about Cure The Blues' future beyond his big test Saturday, nor about his own future with the horse. But that seems implausible. The chance to handle a horse like Cure The Blues comes, for the average trainer, only once in a lifetime.