Deputy Minister came into the Bahamas Stakes as the most celebrated 3-year-old on this continent. He left Hialeah Race Track this afternoon with his reputation shattered and his status as the early Kentucky Derby favorite drastically altered.
Aloma's Ruler won the year's first important stakes race for Derby-age horses, rallying to defeat Distinctive Pro by a head. But Deputy Minister, the even-money favorite, never could get close to either of them. He broke sluggishly, made an ineffectual attempt to rally and finished fifth, nine lengths behind the winner.
Unlike the favorite, Aloma's Ruler ($9.20) had never won any honors or major stakes, and nobody had ever considered buying a half-interest in him for $6 million. But his owner and trainer had thought highly of him ever since a year ago today, when they bought him at the Hialeah sale of 2-year-olds.
Nathan Scherr, a home builder and shopping center developer in the Baltimore area, had intended to spend no more than $50,000 at the sale, but when his trainer, Butch Lenzini, told him, "I'm in love with this colt," Scheer got carried away, exceeded his budget and spent $92,000. After Aloma's Ruler won three of his four races in New Jersey as a 2-year-old, and when he was training brilliantly in preparation for the Bahamas, Scheer exclaimed, "This is the best investment I've ever made." Today's results proved him right; he has a legitimate Derby contender.
Aloma's Ruler broke very sharply in this seven-furlong race, and looked as if he were going to battle for the lead as he usually has in the past. But jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who flew here for this race, knew that some of his rivals were high-powered speedballs. So when Rex's Profile and Distinctive Pro rushed up outside, Cordero tried to restrain Aloma's Ruler. It wasn't easy. "He was fighting to run," the jockey said.
As the leaders sped the first half-mile in 45 1/5 seconds, Aloma's Ruler dropped about four lengths behind them. But he still was clearly in front of Deputy Minister, who had come out of the gate last and now was just advancing to the middle of the pack.
When the horses reached the turn, Lets Don't Fight had moved outside the leaders and Cordero now swung Aloma's Ruler four-wide and gunned for the lead. Both Rex's Profile and Lets Don't Fight gave up quickly, but Distinctive Pro fought back. Under Cordero's vigorous urging, Aloma's Ruler finally wore down his rival in the last 16th of a mile and won by a head, covering the seven furlongs in an excellent 1:22 1/5. Lets Dont Fight was four lengths farther back.
Deputy Minister had never shown a sign of life and jockey Don MacBeth was forced to rely on some of the hoariest excuses to explain his performance. "He didn't handle the race track," MacBeth said. "It felt a little cuppy to him. He was climbing the last part of it."