Friday, June 10, 2011

Get Me To The Eighth Pole, Baby

--Andy Belfiore

   Before he gets to the starting gate for the GI Belmont S., Jesus Castanon might want to have a few words with Angel Cordero Jr. There has been a lot of talk that Castanon’s Belmont mount Shackleford (Forestry) will give it up like the Red Sox in September when he hits the long stretch at Big Sandy. Thirty-five years ago, that’s what they were saying about Bold Forbes. Cordero wasn’t listening.

   Bold Forbes was a top-drawer 2-year-old in 1975, winning five straight in Puerto Rico before heading to New York and tagging the Tremont and Saratoga Special onto his winning streak. Sidelined by bucked shins, he lost the first two starts of his comeback, but hit his best stride at the end of February 1976 and reeled off wins in the San Jacinto S. at Santa Anita and the Bay Shore S. at Aqueduct.

   But there was a lot of doubt about his stamina. Bold Forbes was by Irish Castle, who was quick enough to win the Hopeful at two, but went 0-for-9 at three and four. And he didn’t know the meaning of the word “rate.” The colt left the blocks like he was late for the bus, and there was no slowing him down til he hit the wire.

   He handled the nine furlongs of the Wood Memorial in track-record time, yet they still questioned if he could get a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby. Bold Forbes answered that query with an in-your-face yes. Favored Honest Pleasure tested him early and charged at him late, but he couldn’t get by him, and Cordero’s “Puerto Rican Rolls-Royce” was draped in the blanket of roses (video).

   His headstrong ways did cost him in the Preakness--Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure hooked up right out of the gate at Pimlico and scorched through six furlongs in 1:09 flat, besting the then-track record of 1:09 1/5. It is still the fastest three-quarters in Preakness history. Honest Pleasure spit it and beat just one home; Bold Forbes was gasping, but still managed to run third, beaten four lengths by Elocutionist.

Bold Forbes (red silks) breaks from the gate in the Belmont   Coglianese Photo
   Shaking off a badly grabbed quarter, Bold Forbes headed to Belmont Park. Honest Pleasure and Elocutionist both opted out of the final jewel in the Triple Crown, helping the Derby winner’s chances. But, as the late great sportswriter Bill Leggett reported in Sports Illustrated, he faced nine rivals in the 1 1/2-mile test because “owners and trainers of colts of modest talent could not believe that the sprinting Bold Forbes would be able to carry his speed over the full distance.”

   Cordero’s response? His DRF quote was, “I told [Bold Forbes], ‘Get me to the eighth pole, baby, and I’ll take it from there.’”

   That’s just the way it worked out. In one of the most masterful rides of a career defined by them, Cordero took Bold Forbes right to the lead, but kept him well off the rail in an attempt to slow the runaway train just a little. Bold Forbes had four lengths on the field after an opening quarter in :23 4/5, with Cordero motionless in the saddle. He’d opened up by seven after a half in :47 and six furlongs in 1:11 1/5. Best Laid Plans made a run at him on the turn, but Cordero didn’t flinch, and he was drawing off again as they hit the mile in 1:36.

Shackleford & Castanon
   Five in front when they wheeled into the stretch, Bold Forbes did what he’d been asked. He carried Cordero to the eighth pole, and then his Hall of Fame pilot went to work. Using the whip judiciously, Cordero squeezed til Bold Forbes was bone dry, but they hit the wire a neck in front of McKenzie Bridge (video).

   Before the race, Cordero told Leggett, “People can say that Bold Forbes will not get a mile and a half. Let them talk. Let’s wait until the race is run. But remember the fish: he only gets caught when he opens his mouth.”

   Cordero walked the walk in the 1976 Belmont. Maybe Castanon can get him to talk the talk, and, with a little advice from one of the greatest riders of all time, silence those doubting Shackleford.

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