It was a year in which no horse did everything right, so when Ferdinand won thoroughbred racing's 1987 horse-of-the-year title Wednesday, it was by edging out Theatrical in a vote that was just as close as many of his races.
Although Ferdinand collected only 38% of the total vote by the three Eclipse Award groups--turf reporters, track racing secretaries and Daily Racing Form staff members--what counted was that he gained the support of two of the three voting blocs.
The Racing Form favored Ferdinand over Theatrical by a 30-15 margin, but the other groups were not as decisive. Theatrical won the vote of the turf reporters, 21-19, so the difference in the balloting was the narrow 8-7 margin that Ferdinand had among the racing secretaries.
Of 148 votes cast, Ferdinand had 57 and Theatrical 43. Alysheba, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but loser by a nose to Ferdinand in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park Nov. 21, was next with 24. Other horses getting votes were Java Gold with 15, Manila with 7 and Groovy and Miesque, 1 each.
Comparing Ferdinand and Theatrical was difficult for voters. Ferdinand was a dirt horse, Theatrical ran only on grass, and they never competed against one another. The only time they were at the same track was on Breeders' Cup day, when Ferdinand won the Classic about half an hour after Theatrical had won the $2-million Turf Stakes.
Bred and raced by Howard and Elizabeth Keck of Los Angeles, Ferdinand won the Kentucky Derby in 1986, but then had trouble winning early in his 4-year-old season in 1987. The noses of Snow Chief and Broad Brush kept him from winning the Strub Stakes and the Santa Anita Handicap, and it wasn't until late June that he scored his first win of the year, taking the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Ferdinand won only 4 of 10 starts, but put the victories together in his last four races, climaxing the season with that thrilling victory in the Breeders' Cup.
Alysheba, with $2.5 million, and Theatrical, with $2.2 million, earned more than Ferdinand's $2.1 million. But Alysheba won only one other race besides his Triple Crown triumphs.
Theatrical won seven of nine starts, scoring six of the victories in major races, but there was the suspicion among many voters that he wasn't a better grass horse than Manila, who beat him by almost five lengths in the Budweiser-Arlington Million in September. That was the last race for Manila, who won four of five starts but missed a rematch with Theatrical in the Breeders' Cup because of an injury.
Ferdinand is trained by Charlie Whittingham, who had his first horse of the year, Ack Ack, in 1971.
Whittingham, who discarded plans to make a grass runner out of the Nijinsky II-Banja Luka colt when he showed a dislike for the turf early last year, has Ferdinand in training for another shot at the Santa Anita Handicap March 6. A likely prep race for Ferdinand is the San Antonio Handicap Feb. 14.
FERDINAND'S 1987 RECORD
10 starts, 4 wins, 2 seconds, 1 third, $2,185,150 in purses.
Date Race Track Fin. Jan. 18 San Fernando Santa Anita 4th Feb. 8 Strub Santa Anita 2nd March 8 Santa Anita Handicap Santa Anita 2nd March 29 San Luis Rey Santa Anita 4th May 10 John Henry Hollywood Park 3rd June 7 Californian Hollywood Park 4th June 28 Hollywood Gold Cup Hollywood Park 1st Aug. 29 Cabrillo Handicap Del Mar 1st Nov. 17 Goodwood Handicap Santa Anita 1st Nov. 21 Breeders' Cup Classic Hollywood Park 1st