1984: Swale

Sunday, May 06, 1984



By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Staff Writer

Quite possibly there will be other Kentucky Derbies for Claiborne Farm, which won its first yesterday with Swale after many long years of waiting. But there will never be another week like the final days leading to the 110th running.
Seth Hancock was composing himself in the Churchill Downs directors’ room, still numb after Swale’s 31/4-length victory. Coax Me Chad was second and At The Threshold third in a mile and a quarter timed in 2:02 2/5.
Swale, second choice to the filly entry of Althea and Life’s Magic, paid $8.80, $4.80 and $3.40. Coax Me Chad survived a foul claim from Fight Over’s jockey, Octavio Vergara, to hold second and return $8 and $4. At The Threshold paid $13.80 to show.
“It’s been a hard week,” said Hancock, the president of his family’s historic breeding farm near Paris. Claiborne Farm and Hancock own Swale in partnership with Dell Hancock, William Haggin Perry, Peter Brant and Edward A. Cox.
“It’s been a hard winter,” he said.
Probably no one could appreciate the weight of responsibility Hancock had carried to the race. All through the winter he had worried over the fortunes of Devil’s Bag, the champion colt he had syndicated for $36 million. Then Hancock’s trainer, Woody Stephens, was hospitalized with pneumonia in the final, crucial weeks before the Derby.
On Monday, Hancock had to deal with the decision of pulling Devil’s Bag out of the race. And Swale had not come up to the Derby with a perfect record, for he had lost his last start by an astounding eight lengths.
So Hancock was as much relieved yesterday as he was awed by Claiborne’s first Derby victory.
“When your trainer’s laying up in the hospital and you’re trying to win a Derby with one horse and everybody’s writing about the deficiencies of another,” he said, wiping his face with a towel, “well, it’s been a hard week.”
Stephens, who watched the race from the directors’ room while an assistant, Mike Griffin, saddled Swale, seemed buoyed by the victory. It was his second day out of the hospital.
“This year, Swale has shown more than Devil’s Bag except for the one race in the slop at Lexington (Lexington Stakes),” Stephens said. “We threw that race out and honestly I can say that all the connections were very confident.
“I have been ill and cannot express my gratitude enough to Mike Griffin, who has done such a great job in helping me keep this horse in form.”
The plans for Swale through the rest of the Triple Crown races are indefinite. Hancock said Swale might race in the Preakness in two weeks if Devil’s Bag doesn’t run in that race. At the same time, if Devil’s Bag runs in the Preakness he won’t run in the Belmont, Hancock said.
While Stephens rested in an outer office, Hancock lingered almost in solitude in a corner of the directors’ room, possibly thinking of his father, the late A.B. “Bull” Hancock Jr., and how much winning the Derby would have meant to him. A Derby for Bull Hancock would have meant the culmination of all he had wanted to achieve in his breeding program and his manner of raising horses at Claiborne.
Bull Hancock’s other son, Arthur, had given the family its first Derby victory when Gato del Sol won the race in 1982. But Arthur breeds and raises horses on his own enterprise, Stone Farm. Claiborne was among the leading breeders in the country but still had not won a Kentucky Derby.
“It’s a tribute to my father,” said Seth Hancock, who took over responsibility for Claiborne when Bull Hancock died in the early 1970s. “This Derby was his Derby.
“If ever I could be lucky enough to win it again with a trainer I had picked and a son of Devil’s Bag or Swale, if I could carry on the same tradition he did, then maybe then I could think it was a little something of my doing.”
It was Bull Hancock’s Derby right down to Swale’s breeding, for his dam, Tuerta, was the last stakes horse Bull Hancock raced. And on the final turn it became irrevocably evident that this would be Swale’s Derby, too.
This is where the nearly-black son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew bid adieu to the filly, Althea. The filly had taken the lead in the first quarter-mile and stubbornly held off Bear Hunt and Swale around the first turn.
Jockey Laffit Pincay had Swale in perfect striking position all the way down the backstretch as he lay right off Althea. Then after a mile, all Pincay had to do was ask the horse to pick up the bit, and Swale took off running.
Althea suddenly backed up, finishing 19th in the field of 20. Fight Over, who made a bid approaching the final turn, got within two lengths of Swale but failed to hold his position. At The Threshold also made a run at Swale coming around the turn, but Swale was running now, and there was no catching him. He drew off at the quarter pole and raced five lengths on top in the upper part of the stretch.
Althea went the first quarter in 23 2/5 seconds, a half-mile in 47 2/ 5 and three-quarters in 1:11 4/5, and Swale finished in 2:02 2/5, far off Secretariat’s record of 1:59 2/5.
Arthur Hancock, watching from a clubhouse box, was giving his mother, Waddell Hancock, a blowby-blow description of the stretch run, for she couldn’t see the race.
“I said, O’Mama, he’s going to win it. He’s going to win it.’ And she said, O’oooooh.’
“He was really going,” Arthur Hancock said. “He had his ears back and he was rolling.”
For Pincay, it was his first Kentucky Derby win in 11 attempts. He said he worried Friday night that the track might be too wet for Swale, for no one had forgotten the colt’s disastrous defeat at Keeneland on a sloppy surface.
“But it was perfect,” Pincay said. “I knew if I got a good break from the gate and could lay close, he’d run real big.”
And Pincay got a great break from his post position No. 15, angling over at the start to get in third place going into the first turn.
“At the quarter pole I let my horse run and he went on. I let him go to the rail in the stretch and he was running strong all the way to the wire.”
Vergara, who rode Fight Over, had complained that Coax Me Chad came out in front of him at the finish. But the stewards said any interference was minimal, and Fight Over was stopping anyway.
“The only thing that could have bothered him was the draft from Coax Me Chad,” said Senior State Steward Keene Daingerfield.
But fourth-placed Gate Dancer was disqualified to fifth after the stewards ruled that he bore in from at least the 16th pole and knocked Fali Time sideways several times. Consequently, Fali Time was moved up from fifth to fourth.
Silent King, third betting choice, made his customary run from last place but got no closer than ninth. Jockey Bill Shoemaker said he ran his race “but just couldn’t get there after being that far back early.”
Vanlandingham, part of an entry with Pine Circle that was fourth betting choice, finished 16th while Pine Circle ran sixth. Pat Day, the rider on Vanlandingham, said “midway on the backstretch he just turned me loose and quit running, for whatever reason.”
“When I got him pulled up and we started back he nodded a little bit. It felt like something was wrong in his left front leg.”
Blue Grass Stakes winner Taylor’s Special finished 13th after failing to make a serious bid. “He never even offered to pick it up a little bit when I asked him to run,” said jockey Sam Maple. “He just didn’t act like the horse he’s been the last couple of months.”

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