Key to the Mint, 1972

Charles Hatton on 1972 champion three-year-old Key to the Mint from the 1973 American Racing Manual.


At the end of the ’72 season, international turfman Paul Mellon thought of Key to the Mint as ” . . . a very good colt who has overcome physical problems.”

Key to the Mint, speaking for himself, so impressed the cognoscenti few if any dissented, and indeed the Virginian was voted the season’s three-year-old title.

Changed After Triple Crown Races

He had collected a fearful bruise just over the stifle in a Florida dress rehearsal for the spring classics and it gradually affected the lower leg. This intruded on his development. He forfeited a chance in Riva Ridge’s Derby, although he won the Trial, indeed was beaten pointless by the previous season’s two-year-old champion in the classic Belmont Stakes.

Thereafter, under Elliott H. Burch’s fine handling, he went the right way, from strength to strength. Conversely, Riva Ridge was a squeezed sponge after squeaking home in the Hollywood Derby under topweight of 129 pounds, and anticlimaxed his high spring form.

In sum, the Rokeby colt won seven of 12 races and $349,351 during the campaign. Fleshing out the bare bones of this statistic was the fact he won the Withers at a mile in 1:34 4/5, readily downed older rival in the Brooklyn, Whitney and weight-for-age Woodward, won the Travers and was runner-up to Autobiography in the latter’s vibrant Gold Cup performance.

With rare exceptions, the handicap division has been pathetically weak in late years, and the Rokeby three-year-olds have repeatedly taken advantage of the controversial weight scale. It once was thought terribly daring to run three-year-olds against older rivals, and there still exists a quaint superstition against the practice in some quarters. But Key to the Mint beat the older Autobiography at every pole with an actual weight pull of 10 pounds for the Brooklyn, in turn was beaten 15 lengths by the handicap champion at w-f-a in the Gold Cup.

Once Had Handicap Division

There was a time, before horses were raced continually until fragmenting and stallions could be syndicated for millions, American had a handicap division. But the Autobiographies run few to the acre in the enlightened present.

Contrasting vividly with the division’s present low estate was the memorable day in 1913 when Whisk Broom II, first winner of the Handicap Triple Crown, carried 139 pounds a disputed mile and a quarter in 2:00 in the Suburban. Last in that historic event was the season’s three-year-old champion, Cock o’ the Walk, while the field included also the 1911 Derby winner Meridian.

Some rather serious thinkers advocate revising the scale, hopeful this will encourage more owners of ranking three-year-olds to continue them in training at four and possibly later.

The proposition naturally has the advocacy of racing secretaries whose fear of short fields perches like a raven on their shoulders.

Stable Gives Time for Development

At any rate, Key to the Mint thanked his people extensively for refraining from abusing him in the spring, instead of attempting to sweat him for the brass so long as he had a leg left under him, in the way of many establishments. Much of Rokeby’s signal success is attributable to the old-fashioned policy of affording young horses ample time to develop.

Key to the Mint waxed larger and stronger, while some of his overraced rivals grew thinner as the season progressed. Moreover, he appeared on the racecourse for exercise 24 to 48 hours after running, while they walked for days, and he was prepared to take his races in stride and rarely appeared jarred. He absorbed campaigning much like Arts and Letters.

Coming up to the Belmont, a horse was hooked up with him and he was estimated to have worked only too fast, an error which was not repeated.

He trained and went to the races without a pony, as do all the Rokeby horses. He wore blinkers and ran willingly and was something of an all-purpose horse with regard to his indifference to weather. Twice in bad going, he and Riva Ridge concentrated on one another while another of the field got loose and beat both, Bee Bee Bee in the Preakness and Autobiography in the Cup.

In each instance, it seemed a clear case of mistaken identity concerning whom they had to beat.

Wears Shadow Roll and Blinkers

Key to the Mint wore a shadow roll as well as blinkers. But his principles were stronger than his curiosity, and several of his races were extrinsic with intrinsic speed. Of course all tracks are faster today, but his 2:01 1/5 under 117 in the antique Travers was a stylish run.

Braulio Baeza had to insist his mount beat the challenging Tentam that day and as the colt had experienced several severe races in close order he appreciated a brief respite before the Woodward.

On the whole, too much is made of time per se. Mention this to speed chartists and one can detect an atmosphere. But the most important thing is to remember few horses are able to immediately duplicate a performance representing their maximum speed.

There is a pleasantly mad idea that raw time is the measure of class. As Marse Tom Healey protested, accurately, when Mate outworked Equipoise: “A horse of Equipoise’s class will stare him down in a few strides.”

Experienced racing men very much cling to the principle that “class will tell.” One was more profoundly impressed Key to the Mint showed a willingness to race head and head with Riva Ridge than by his very adequate time.

Mellon regards two-year-old competition as a means toward an end, not an end in itself, and Key to the Mint was unhurried in his development at two. He was inclined to be growthy and a bit backward, though he was never a terribly large, overtopped specimen.

Conversely, his sire Graustark had been a brilliant two-year-old, then diabolically went wrong through excessive use in a vain effort to be ready for the Derby, leaving everyone to wonder if he were merely fast or would have gone into debt for oxygen trying to carry his speed classic routes.

Key to the Mint is individually 16 hands full. Full bodied, full quartered and full of blood, as the French say. He has interesting style, quality and finish and is blessed with two good ends and a good middle. Many considered him the most photogenic colt of his age.

It is not mere coincidence Key to the Mint, Typecast and Secretariat are all grandchildren of Princequillo, himself a symphony of homogenous lines.

This is important, as morphological selection has been paid too scant attention by the dilettantes. Key to the Mint and his champion half-brother Fort Marcy are obviously sons of their dam, Princequillo’s daughter Key Bridge.

Brigadier Gerard is not a terribly blue-bookish animal on pedigree, except he comes of Pretty Polly’s family. Pretty Polly’s hocks were behind her, and so are those of the Brigadier’s dam. Through selective breeding based primarily on conformation, John Hislop bred out this defect in Brigadier Gerard, an oustanding physical specimen and racehorse.

Possesses Broad Forehead

Key to the Mint is a dark, whole colored bay with black points extending well up his limbs. He has a broad forehead, short muzzle, arching throatlatch, a muscular neck of medium length extending fluently into sturdy withers and a shoulder of good angulation.

He is well muscled about the humerus and forearms, and has s splendid middle, with arching ribs, a short flank, strong loin and pleasing breadth across the hips.

There is a curvaceous bow about the gluteal muscles, while the pelvis has the length associated with speed. Fortunately, the muscle about the stifle and gaskins has supple length, facilitating the sustained action to stay reasonably. The hind leg might be a bit straighter. The pasterns are above cavil.

He makes flesh like a good doer, and came into the paddock in such radiant bloom after freshening for the Woodward he was obviously “the one to beat.” It is perhaps heretical, but we thought him a trifle too high in flesh for the Gold Cup. A horse has his fighting weight, so to speak, and may look only too good.

Key to the Mint does not have Fort Marcy’s cheekiness, and is less a bloody nuisance to ride. Fort Marcy would relax once in front and was a rail runner. Key to the Mint has shown no treachery nor idiosyncrasies.

“Action makes the racehorse,” and Key to the Mint’s racing stroke is collected and controlled, the sort to accommodate to any going. The best stayers are generally “just behind their bridles,” as jockeys say, rather than very hard mouthed pullers.

Freddy Fox Apt Comment

Freddy Fox once noted that, “Usually when they have done pulling, they have done going.” He ascribed habitual pulling to excessive hustling as two-year-olds.

Key to the Mint is perhaps the smartest Graustark to have appeared here thus far, and he is thoroughly genuine. He is all out front, as the kids say, candid and dedicated.

In this he reflects his breeding, a pedigree devised with care and edited with discretion. By Graustark out of Key Bridge, by Princequillo, the next dam was that delightful little mare Blue Banner, by War Admiral, and the next Risque Blue, who was by Blue Larkspur out of the top class Risque.

John Hertz once related that when he visited his neighbor A. B. Hancock Sr. to purchase a filly who had taken his fancy, the latter urged Risque on him as well, saying: “She will pay the other’s way.”

Chatting of breeding, Sir Gordon Richards once observed, “Like begets like, or perhaps a little worse.” But on the record, Key to the Mint represents an improvement. His is a running and producing family, to whom distance and weather are matters of supernatural indifference.

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