It stung like a burr under a saddle. For more than twenty-five years Lazero Sosa Barrera had carved out a reputation as one of the top trainers in the nation winning a lot of races at a lot of tracks but never what racing people call a "hundred-grander."
Then Bold Forbes put away Barrera's jinx with a scintillating performance in the 1976 Wood Memorial.
When the Wood rolls around each year it's a sure sign that spring is in the air and the Kentucky Derby is just around the corner. Begun in 1925 at historic Aqueduct Race Track, the race has been the most important New York stepping stone to the Triple Crown classics. Eleven of its winners went on to capture the Kentucky Derby with Wood Memorial champs Gallant Fox (1930), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and Seattle Slew (1977) all Triple Crown winners and members of the Hall of Fame.
Bred in Kentucky's bluegrass, Bold Forbes began his racing career with five runaway victories in Puerto Rico. He opened his three-year old campaign cruising to a decisive victory in the Bay Shore a few weeks before the Wood over seven furlongs, thought to be his best distance.
Like a number of the great Bold Ruler's offspring, the dark bay colt was strong willed and tended to loaf in solo morning gallops. But if he had a runner to take aim his competitive nature took charge.
Bold Forbes also mimicked another of his grandsire's traits: his penchant not to rate. So, those were the challenges that faced his pair of conquistadores, the Cuban-born Barrera and the irrepressible jockey Angel Cordero. They devised a plan to gallop the colt long distances in the mornings to build stamina.
"There were days when he was exercising me instead of me exercising him," said Cordero with a broad grin.
Late on a sun-splashed April 17th afternoon Cordero swung up onto Bold Forbes for the $112,000 Wood's post parade. As the starting gates sprung open the colt broke well and zipped straight to the front, galloping easily on the lead as he sizzled through the nine furlongs romping past Derby contenders On the Sly and Cojak to win by four lengths. His time of 1:47 2/5 broke the stakes record held by Bold Ruler and the previous year's Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure.
Bold Forbes proved he could carry it two turns, thanks to a long efficient stride that wasted little energy. For Cordero, it was a special moment. The colt's owner E. Rodriguez Tizol had given him his first mount as a jockey at the El Commandte racetrack in San Juan in 1960.
"Now I'm riding for Mr. Rodriguez, going to the Kentucky Derby where I will rent a limousine and go to Churchill Downs in style," said Cordero, wheeling his arms after the Wood. "I will be riding the 'Puerto Rican Rolls-Royce.'"
In the week leading up to the Wood Barrera had targeted 2:03 for the mile-and-a-quarter, a time that had won three of the previous six Kentucky Derby races. Galloping out at the end of the Wood, Cordero hit it right on the button.
Born in Havana on May 8, 1924, Laz Barrera was the ninth of 12 children of a jockey and the daughter of a French missionary. Following a family tradition he began working at Oriental Park, a track built on land his grandfather once owned.
He earned his Cuban training license at the age of 16 and after five years sold a colt named San Francisco to get the funds to leave Havana in 1944. He landed in Mexico, where he debuted with five straight winners. The racing authorities pored over his racing documents and discovered he was a few months short of the minimum age of 21. His license revoked, Barrera set sail for Hollywood Park as owner, trainer, groom and hotwalker for a cheap thoroughbred named Destructor in 1950.
As for Bold Forbes, his story began at Eaton Farm in Lexington, Ky. Sired by Irish Castle, out of the mare Comely Nell (by Commodore M), a dark brown colt with a little star that graced his forehead, Bold Forbes was born on March 31, 1973. His potent bloodlines can be traced to champion Bold Ruler, Nasrullah and Bull Lea.
He was purchased by banker and real estate investor Tizol as a yearling for the sum of $15,200. In his first start as a two-year-old in San Juan in 1975, Bold Forbes won by 17 lengths at odds of 35-1. In his next four races he mowed down competitors by a combined 51 lengths, and was named champion 2 year old in Puerto Rico. That summer Bold Forbes was sent off to New York where he triumphed in the Tremont Stakes and the Saratoga Special.
In the 1976 edition of the Wood, Bold Forbes had given ample signs that he had a measure of his grandsire's flash and fire on the racetrack. It would prove to be a harbinger of the 102nd Kentucky Derby. Still most pundits favored the brilliant colt Honest Pleasure who had won nine consecutive races, seven of them major stakes.
Barrera was unfazed. He brought his colt to the Derby with a series of two-mile gallops in the morning.
"It's a long way around," said the handsome Cuban outside Barn 41 at Churchill Downs, "and you don't want your horse looking for a chair to sit at the top of the stretch."
I cried in the winner's circle because a man who wins the Belmont and does not cry is not a man.
”-- Trainer Lazero Sosa Barrera
Bold Forbes shot to a five-length lead rounding the first turn and a snappy opening quarter of 22 2/5. By the quarter pole jockey Braulio Baeza seemed to have Cordero measured, but Bold Forbes rallied gamely when engaged by Honest Pleasure. Again at the sixteenth pole Baeza pulled within a neck of the speedy colt but could never get by him as Bold Forbes became just the tenth horse to win the Derby wire-to-wire.
Two weeks later Bold Forbes ran the fastest first half-mile in Preakness history and the fastest three quarter mile (1:09) ever in the 105-year history of Pimlico races, including sprints. But Elocutionist, third in the Derby, flew by him at the eighth pole winning by 3-1/2 lengths. Bold Forbes, who suffered a severe cut in his left hind leg, held on for third place.
By the time the Belmont rolled around, Bold Forbes' foot was healed. Once again he zipped to the lead out of the gate. Stretching out his neck and flicking his ears back and forth, Bold Forbes strung out the field opening up a six-length lead at the top of the stretch. McKenzie Bridge and Great Contractor were flying in mid-stretch, but Bold Forbes bulled his way past the winning post by a neck. Swirling red, white, and blue Puerto Rican flags blanketed the grandstand.
The jockey called it his best-ever ride. As for Barrera, he put another "hundred-grander" into his pocket. But most telling was the handsome trainer's response to the overflow Belmont crowd of 57, 519 and the frenzy of the Puerto Rican people.
"I cried in the winner's circle because a man who wins the Belmont and does not cry is not a man," said the trainer, then 52. "Bold Forbes has a heart as big as all of heaven. And God, I have found out, is Latin."
Barrera is the last man to train a Triple Crown Winner, Affirmed in 1978. He trained 128 different stakes winners, won the Eclipse Award as the outstanding American trainer for four straight years, from 1976 to 1979. Barrera had the distinction of being the only trainer elected to the racing Hall of Fame in three countries -- Cuba, Mexico and the United States. He died of a heart attack at age 66 in 1991.
Bold Forbes was retired after his three-year old season with earnings of $546,536. He was voted the 1976 3-Year-Old of the Year. His career stats: 18 starts, 13 wins and he never finished worse than third. Bold Forbes sired 13 crops through 1990 with 304 winners, 30 of which were stakes winners, and his offspring won more than $18 million. His champions included Kentucky Oaks winner Tiffany Lass, Bold Appeal and Air Forbes Won. He was moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in 1991 from his stud career at Stone Farm in Paris, Ky. He was a resident of the Hall of Champions for nine years. Bold Forbes died August 9, 2000 at the age 27 and is buried behind the Hall of Champions.
Terry Conway has been a regular contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine since 2003. He wrote a Sunday column on racing for several years for the Chester County (Pa.) daily newspaper and covers racing and the horse world for a number of regional magazines in the mid-Atlantic area. In addition, he has written many historical articles on the art world and business entrepreneurs for a variety of national and regional magazines. Contact Terry at email@example.com