Chief's Crown stunned all the detractors who thought he was sick or unfit by leading all the way in the Flamingo Stakes today.
But his performance was upstaged 15 minutes later by the Hialeah stewards. They stunned the crowd of 25,320 by disqualifying Chief's Crown and making Proud Truth the official winner, even though there was no contact between the horses and Proud Truth suffered no interference. Chief's Crown was placed second.
After Chief's Crown had set a slow early pace, he turned into the stretch with a clear lead. The clockers and horsemen who had watched him train so poorly this winter probably expected him to fade at this point, but the 2-year-old champion of last season was still a strong horse.
Proud Truth and Stephan's Odyssey were trying to rally outside the leader, but they were making no headway and inside the last furlong Chief's Crown had a two-length lead.
He began to drift wide, moving in front of his rivals, but he remained clear of them and neither of the other jockeys ever stopped riding for a stride. Proud Truth, in fact, was bearing out a bit himself and jostling Stephan's Odyssey.
Chief's Crown got to the finish line one length in front of Proud Truth, with Stephan's Odyssey a neck farther behind. He covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 2/5, mediocre time on the lightning-fast track.
When the "Inquiry" sign was lit, many press box observers thought it was directed at Proud Truth. Horses like Chief's Crown are almost never disqualified for drifting wide as long as they stay clear of the horses behind them.
But a substitute steward was replacing state steward Walter Blum, whose mother died this week, and without Blum the officials here have rendered a number of inexplicable decisions this winter.
After the winner's number came down, steward Joe Anderson explained, "The 5 horse (Chief's Crown) came out under left-hand whipping and the 7 (Proud Truth) had no choice but to stay off his heels. We had no problem with the disqualification."
Don MacBeth, Chief's Crown's jockey, had some problems with it. "I didn't bother anyone," he said. "I was much in front of them and I was drifting at that point. Georgie (Velasquez, Proud Truth's jockey) congratulated me and he would have said something if I bothered him."
Trainer Roger Laurin was fuming over the verdict, too, but he was delighted and relieved by the performance of his colt. Since he was voted the champion of his generation last year, he had run in only one seven-furlong race. Moreover, he had not worked farther than six furlongs, and looked unimpressive in his morning trials.
John Veitch, Proud Truth's trainer, declared flatly that Chief's Crown couldn't be ready to go 1 1/8 miles.
But Laurin had him ready, and he was greatly abetted by the nature of his opposition.
In the eight-horse lineup, he was the only one with early speed, and MacBeth used that speed to control the race.
He went to the front immediately and covered the first quarter in a dawdling 24 3/5 seconds, the half mile in 48 4/5. As he did, he forced both Proud Truth and Stephan's Odyssey to alter their normal stretch-running style.
Proud Truth stayed within a length of the leader all the way down the backstretch, and Stephan's Odyssey was close, too. But speed horses invariably have the decided advantage in such a situation and Chief's Crown did, too.
He spurted away on the turn and took command, and never seemed to be in any danger until the red "Inquiry" sign appeared on the tote board.