Carlos Garcia had to leave his Kentucky Derby contender Fobby Forbes on Saturday so he could go to New York and saddle Squan Song in the Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct. But, unlike other trainers in this common situation, Garcia didn't have to worry about making plane connections. Fobby Forbes' owner sent his private jet here to pick up the trainer, then flew him back after the Aqueduct race.
Working for Robert Brennan isn't quite like working for other owners. Everything Brennan does is splashy and controversial -- his operation of his beleaguered firm, First Jersey Securities; his rebuilding of Garden State Park for $100 million; his enticement of 1985 Derby winner Spend a Buck away from the Preakness. Because of Brennan, Fobby Forbes and his low-key trainer may find themselves in the spotlight throughout this Triple Crown series.
Brennan hired Garcia three years ago to train a small Maryland-based division of his far-flung stable. Since Brennan is an ardent champion of hoist-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps capitalism, his choice was a natural one. Garcia had come to this country from his native Argentina, worked as a groom, and then tried to crack into the training profession in Maryland -- which was virtually uncrackable at the time because of its domination by a handful of big stables.
Garcia had little financial resources, but he found one owner, Herman Kossow, who will willing to give him $10,000 to buy horses. The animals he bought for Kossow earned more than $1 million, and Garcia's career was rolling. He got the chance to train for Washingtonian Gustave Ring and established a solid regional reputation as a top horseman. Now his connection with Brennan may give him a measure of national prominence.
Brennan runs his Due Process Stable the way he runs his other business ventures. He expects a certain amount of team spirit -- everybody from Garcia to the groom wears green-and-white Due Process Stable T-shirts. But he gives his employees autonomy and trust.
Garcia loves the arrangement. "He's very loyal," the trainer said. "You should see the way he treats all the people who work for him. He's got confidence in you and lets you do what you think is right. If you believe in a trainer, that's the way it should be."
But if he is an amiable employer, he is still Bob Brennan, and thus is a lightning rod for controversy. Even his horses' names are provocative. When Forbes magazine charged that First Jersey Securities was "fobbing" -- i.e., cheating or deceiving -- its customers, Brennan couldn't resist the opportunity presented by a son of the stallion Bold Forbes in his stable. Hence the name Fobby Forbes.
When he started his career as a 2-year-old at Laurel, Fobby Forbes showed immediate signs of talent. "He stood out from the other horses in the barn like a flashing light," Garcia said.
After he proved at Pimlico this spring that he was a stakes-quality runner, his next objectives were natural enough. He would run in the two Kentucky Derby prep races at Brennan's track -- the Cherry Hill Mile and the Garden State Stakes. There was just one problem with this plan.
Churchill Downs has a new rule for determining Derby eligibility if more than 20 horses are entered in the race. The starters will be chosen according to their earnings in graded stakes -- events ranked Grade I, Grade II or Grade III by a special committee of racing officials. All the major Kentucky Derby preps are graded, with two exceptions -- the Cherry Hill Mile and the Garden State Stakes. Was this the racing establishment's way of getting back at Brennan for luring Spend a Buck away from the Triple Crown series last spring?
"There's no question," Brennan said by phone, "that the change of the rules for qualifying for this year's Derby to eliminate earnings in Garden State's prep races was an attempt to try to undermine our racing program. It is another manifestation of this sick protectionism that permeates the minds of too many leaders in racing."
Fobby Forbes finished second in the Cherry Hill Mile, then rallied strongly to win the Garden State Stakes. But in the Daily Racing Form's compilation of Derby contenders and their graded-stakes earnings, the last item on the list is always: Fobby Forbes 0.
Garcia brought the colt to Churchill Downs with a sense of anxiety. "The earnings rule was always in the back of my mind," he said. "It would be bad to come so far and not be able to run." So far he looks safe. The field for Saturday's race doesn't figure to be more than 19, though if a couple more long-shot entrants come out of the woodwork, Fobby Forbes could still be excluded.
If Fobby Forbes runs and wins, the Triple Crown will be assured of a second straight year of controversy, and Brennan will love every minute of it. Would Fobby Forbes run next in the Preakness on May 17 or the Jersey Derby at Garden State on May 26?
"I don't exclude the possibility of running in both races," Brennan said. He knows that Pimlico General Manager Chick Lang -- who characterized Brennan as a "snake-oil salesman" during the Spend a Buck controversy last year -- would have to plead for Fobby Forbes to come to the Preakness. Brennan might relish that prospect as much as the idea of winning the Derby itself.