Clive Brittain dresses like a banker and speaks so thoughtfully you'd never suspect he is a crackpot. But when the trainer explained before the Blue Grass Stakes what he had in mind for his colt Bold Arrangement, it was clear he had taken leave of his senses.
Brittain had shipped Bold Arrangement here from England to run him in the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, even though the 3-year-old never had competed on a dirt track before. Then, he said, he would send him back home to compete in the Epsom Derby on June 4.
No horse ever has attempted to win the world's two most famous Derbies, and it would be a safe bet that no horse accomplishes the feat in the next millennium.
"I've been called overly optimistic," Brittain told a few journalists on the eve of the Blue Grass, "but I'm just doing what I think is right. I am confident he will run well."
His listeners who understood the difficulty of the grass-to-dirt transition were unconvinced, and they stayed skeptical until the final half mile of the Blue Grass. Bold Arrangement had been running at the rear of the field, but he moved six-wide around the turn, rallied powerfully through the stretch and finished third, losing by less than a length.
It was an impressive performance and an ideal prep for the May 3 Derby, and reporters clustered around Brittain as if he had won the Blue Grass. How did he know that Bold Arrangement would be able to adapt to the totally unfamiliar conditions of U.S. racing? How had he prepared the colt?
The impetus for this venture came from Bold Arrangement's owner, Tony Richards. "He's raced horses here before," Brittain said, "and he told me that if he ever got a horse good enough, he'd love to try to win the Kentucky Derby."
Brittain himself gained a special fondness for American racing last all when he brought his filly Pebbles to Aqueduct and won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf.
Bold Arrangement showed last year that he had the talent to be a classic winner. He finished second in two of Europe's most important races for 2-year-olds. But Brittain thought the colt would be better suited to American-style racing.
In European races, the whole field tends to gallop at a slow pace until the stretch, where everybody accelerates. Here there is more of a sustained hard pace from start to finish. "Bold Arrangement tended to loaf on a slow pace," Brittain said. "He needed somebody to drag him along."
When the colt made his first start this season in a stakes race at Doncaster, he encountered an absurdly slow pace and finished third in a field of four. Brittain told a friend: "Now you can see why I want to take the horse to America."
To prepare Bold Arrangement for American racing surfaces, Brittain schooled him for six weeks over a sand training strip at Newmarket. "It's similar to dirt, but it's very tiring," Brittain said.
"We'd train Bold Arrangement by having two horses in front of him, and have him sit about a length and a half behind. The sand would be kicked at him, but he faced it and went through."
Brittain came here feeling fairly confident that Bold Arrangement would be able to handle the dirt. And when Bold Arrangement proved him right with his strong finish in the Blue Grass, Brittain predicted, "We'll win the Derby."
This time, nobody thought he was crazy.