It was so easy then.
In the 1970s, when racing was graced with stars such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, there was a well-defined order to things: The 2-year-old champion became a 3-year-old monster. Six 2-year-old champions in the '70s won the Kentucky Derby the next year.
But that was then. It's been 12 years since a juvenile champion has won the Kentucky Derby. Except for Chief's Crown (third in 1985) and Easy Goer (second in 1989), no 2-year-old champ even has been close since Spectacular Bid won the 1979 Derby.
Many racing experts say they believe the streak is about to end.
Less than eight weeks until the May 4 Derby, Fly So Free is a strong favorite. After ending last season with a romp in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile -- clinching the Eclipse award for best 2-year-old -- he has been equally impressive in winning both his 1991 starts. On Saturday at Gulfstream Park, he'll be odds-on to win the $500,000 Florida Derby, the East's definitive prep race to date.
Fly So Free, trained by Flint "Scotty" Schulhofer, was so dominant in winning the Fountain of Youth in his most recent that several rival trainers are passing up the Florida Derby for other spots along the Derby trail.
Richman, for one, won the Louisiana Derby in his most recent start, then returned to trainer Bill Mott's Gulfstream base. Mott has chosen to race his colt next in the $500,000 Jim Beam Stakes, bypassing the Florida Derby because of Fly So Free.
And Moment of True and Subordinated Debt, the two-three finishers in the Fountain of Youth, are expected to run next in the Preview Stakes and Jim Beam, respectively.
A field of about eight is expected for the Florida Derby; Jackie Wackie, a winner of nine straight against lesser company, will be second choice to Fly So Free.
Another missing from the Florida Derby is Cahill Road, but that's understandable.
Cahill Road, a promising (2-for-3) but lightly raced full brother to last year's Derby winner, Unbridled, is Fly So Free's stablemate. For as long as possible, Schulhofer wants to keep the colts apart, perhaps avoiding a discouraging loss for Cahill Road.
Schulhofer, 64, has been a race-tracker since he was 17 and a trainer since 1968. He never has been in such an enviable position as now -- he has yet another Derby prospect, Scan, who has been campaigning in Southern California.
Scan is not one of the favorites in his next race, Sunday's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, but the race is so contentious that it could be hard to pick the betting choice, much less the winner.
That's the way the winter has gone in California, where many talented runners have been pointing to Derby berths. The San Felipe, second of the three major Santa Anita preps, should help bring the picture into focus. Three weeks later, the Santa Anita Derby is the West's final major prep.
The two remaining California races are crucial: Not only should they produce the most serious opponents for Fly So Free, but they also could yield the Derby winner. From 1986 to 1989, every Derby winner had wintered in California. Some of the West's best this year are Apollo, Best Pal, Compelling Sound, Dinard, General Meeting and Split Run.
Florida and California traditionally harbor the top Derby contenders through March, but candidates occasionally surface on other circuits.
In Maryland, Broad Brush (third in 1986) and Private Terms (ninth in 1988) were recent Derby starters with widespread support. This year, trainer Carlos Garcia says he has an exceptional colt in Haymaker, who should be a clear favorite Sunday at Pimlico Race Course in the $175,000 Tesio Stakes, the only significant Maryland prep.
"We're the best in town," said Garcia. "But it's hard to judge how he'll compare. Fly So Free looks outstanding. Maybe we'll meet down the road."
One more Derby possibility is the unbeaten filly Meadow Star, who was scratched from a Gulfstream allowance race last week. Meadow Star (7-for-7) since has shipped north and could make her 1991 debut in the Comely Stakes (March 30 at Aqueduct), restricted to fillies.
Going to Kentucky
6,Major prep events for May 4 Kentucky Derby:
Date Race Track Distance Winner
Jan. 11 Los Feliz Santa Anita 1 m. Dinard
Jan. 13 Tropical Park Derby Calder 1 1/8 m. Jackie Wackie
Feb. 2 Hutcheson Stakes Gulfstream 7 f. Fly So Free
Feb. 10 San Vicente Stakes Santa Anita 7 f. Olympio
Feb. 14 Cryptoclearance Stakes Gulfstream 1 m., 70 yds. Jackie Wackie
Feb. 16 Whirlaway Stakes Aqueduct 1 1/16 m. Stately Wager
Feb. 20 Bradbury Stakes Santa Anita 1 1/8 m. General Meeting
Feb. 23 Fountain of Youth Stakes Gulfstream 1 1/16 m. Fly So Free
March 3 Louisiana Derby Fair Grounds 1 1/16 m. Richman
March 3 Private Terms Stakes Laurel 1 1/16 m. Haymaker
March 3 San Rafael Stakes Santa Anita 1 m. Dinard
March 9 Swift Stakes Aqueduct 6 f. Mineral Ice
March 16 Remington Park Derby Remington 1 1/16 m.
March 16 Swale Stakes Gulfstream 7 f.
March 16 Florida Derby Gulfstream 1 1/8 m.
March 17 Tesio Stakes Pimlico 1 1/8 m.
March 17 San Felipe Stakes Santa Anita 1 1/16 m.
March 23 Bay Shore Stakes Aqueduct 7 f.
March 30 Cherry Hill Mile Garden State 1 m.
March 30 Rebel Stakes Oaklawn 1 1/16 m.
March 30 Tampa Bay Derby Tampa Bay 1 1/16 m.
March 30 Jim Beam Stakes Turfway 1 1/8 m.
April 6 Gotham Stakes Aqueduct 1 m.
April 6 Santa Anita Derby Santa Anita 1 1/8 m.
April 6 Preview Stakes Gulfstream 1 1/16 m.
April 10 Lafayette Stakes Keeneland 7 f.
April 13 Blue Grass Stakes Keeneland 1 1/8 m.
April 13 California Derby Golden Gate 1 1/8 m.
April 13 Garden State Stakes Garden State 1 1/8 m.
April 19 Forerunner Stakes Keeneland 1 1/8 m. (tf)
April 20 Arkansas Derby Oaklawn 1 1/8 m.
April 20 Wood Memorial Aqueduct 1 1/8 m.
April 21 Lexington Stakes Keeneland 1 1/16 m.
April 27 Derby Trial Stakes Churchill Downs 1 m.