In the uncertain business of training and evaluating Thoroughbreds, there’s nothing like a horse to make a fool of a man.
We might even think they take it as a joke, and perhaps it is. But the joke’s on us.
One of the horses who played that card most conclusively was a big, grand-looking, very fast colt named Honest Pleasure (1973 b h by What a Pleasure x Tularia, by Tulyar). A champion 2yo who progressed notably into his 3yo season, Honest Pleasure ran very impressive races to win the Florida Derby and Flamingo Stakes in Florida. Those races in Florida, as well as the colt’s domineering style of victory, turned me into something of an Honest Pleasure maniac.
Progressing on to Kentucky, the front-running bay won the Blue Grass in workmanlike fashion and was on a nine-race winning streak when fans made him one of the heaviest-backed Kentucky Derby favorites in history at 2-5.
He promptly sucked all that money down the drain, finishing second to eventual 3yo champion Bold Forbes in the Churchill classic.
Honest Pleasure was an immensely talented horse who was especially dangerous running loose on the lead. A response to my most recent post included an anecdote from a racing fan(atic) who was present at the 1976 Marlboro Cup, where Honest Pleasure found a trip just to his liking, where he winged into the stretch with an open lead and with Forego mired lengths behind carrying 137 pounds. Observer wrote:
I will always remember Honest Pleasure getting 18 pounds from Forego in the 1976 Marlboro Cup and getting nipped right on the money by the 3 time Horse of the Year. I was lucky to be at Belmont that afternoon with a seat right on the finish line. I really had wanted to see Forego win this race, but I didn’t think he could beat Honest Pleasure with the off track and giving all of that weight. I was on my way to the windows to bet Honest Pleasure, and I was talked into playing Forego by a pretty blonde. At the 1/16th pole, I was telling her thanks for talking me out of the winner. And when the numbers went up, I was forced to eat humble pie. The pretty blonde is still around and so are the memories of Forego.
As Observer correctly recalls, it was one of the most exciting races for the Marlboro Cup. Honest Pleasure had nailed the field with three-quarters in 1:10 4/5 and a mile in 1:35. Nothing was capable of making a move on him by the stretch, except Forego. The giant son of Forli shifted out wide for the stretch run, with Bill Shoemaker looking like a yellow and brown gnat on his back.
Until the final sixteenth, the 3yo looked home and hosed. But Forego would not quit. He kept digging, catching the leader yard by yard. Even then, it did not seem possible for him to close the ground necessary. But the supreme champions, the ones for whom greatness is not omitted, find a way. And Forego did that afternoon. With Shoemaker riding like a tiny, silent genius, the big dark gelding put his nose on the wire a hair in front of Honest Pleasure.
And pandemonium? Was there pandemonium after this dramatic victory? If there was, I cannot remember it because the silence in my mind was louder than the crowd as I felt the magnitude of what Forego had accomplished.