Saratoga has been given up for dead a half-dozen times since the war, but last week the old New York spa came to life again. The petunia-banked track with the Victorian manners has a hold on racing enthusiasts that nothing can shake. Actually, little remains of the old town but the track. Gone are the huge night clubs and the gaming rooms. Gone is the wonderful old Grand Union Hotel and gone, too, are the big names in show business which once adorned Saratoga's night life. But the major attraction this year is a headliner nevertheless. Native Dancer, the imperturbable gray champion, is attempting a comeback at the spa. And he should outdraw a dozen Joe E. Lewises.
Alfred G. Vanderbilt's four-year-old, idolized by race track crowds and TV viewers alike, injured his right forefoot after winning the Metropolitan at Belmont last May. Pessimists prophesied the end of his racing career. I watched him work out at Belmont the day before he was shipped to the spa, and saw him work again up there last week, and I thought he looked trim and hard. Barring the unforeseeable, I think Native Dancer is going to make it. But of course it's the unforeseeable that makes horse racing.
The Dancer was originally pointed for the Saratoga Cup at the end of the meeting—a weight for age affair that should be a pushover. But he may start in the $50,000 added Whitney Handicap August 21st, where he'll probably have to carry half the grandstand. In any event, he's going to stay at Saratoga and not go traipsing off to Chicago despite the lure of richer stakes. There's still every chance that he'll race in France this October. Win, lose or draw, this is his last year of racing. His record still stands at 20 wins out of 21 starts.
Next to the Dancer, the biggest excitement is the yearling sales now under way. The six nightly sessions build, like any good drama, to a smashing climax. Friday night, the yearlings from the Almahurst Farm of Henry H. Knight go on the block. These always bring big prices and bigger crowds. Then on the final night the Aga Khan's lot of 24 Irish-bred yearlings flown over here in July, go under the gavel of auctioneer George Swine-broad.
Opening week at Saratoga was taken over by C. V. Whitney's horses. They chalked up eight victories. Little Fisherman, who flunked out in the Belmont Stakes last June and has been resting since, outran a batch of older horses in the mid-week American Legion Handicap, thereby putting himself back in the running for possible three-year-old honors. And a first starting two-year-old, Pyrenees by Goya II out of White Lady, won his debut over a dull track by four lengths. All in all quite a triumph for trainer Sylvester Veitch.
The Travers, oldest stake with continuity in this country, climaxes the second week of racing at Saratoga. Fisherman, on the strength of his performance last week, will undoubtedly be the favorite. There is a considerable revival of turf racing in the U.S. this summer, with Atlantic City and Chicago among its major exponents. The Atlantic City track has a whole flock of races scheduled for the grass during the 50-day meeting, culminating in the invitation United Nations Handicap in September.
The $25,000 added Grassland Handicap will be run August 14 at a mile and an eighth at Chicago's Washington Park, which took over from Arlington Park last week. Stan, the Hasty House Farm's imported winner of the Arlington Handicap heads a list of 21 entries.
A new grandstand, escalators and air-conditioned dining rooms help keep the paying guests comfortable at Washington Park. This meeting, which runs until Labor Day, has two $100,000 stakes and the Futurity at $75,000.
Clint W. Murchison and Sid Richardson, two Texas gentlemen more recently associated with another kind of track (they backed Robert Young for control of the New York Central) are conducting an experiment in philanthropy at Del Mar racetrack in California.
With the permission of the State, 90% of the profits derived from this newly acquired track now go to a project called Boys, Inc., to help combat juvenile delinquency. Although Californians can't take it off their income tax they can glory in the fact that every two dollar bet they make swells the coffers of Boys, Inc.
Best way to play the races at Del Mar is to follow that riding fool Willie Shoemaker, who has been winning doubles and triples almost every day. It's easier than reading the form, and more profitable.
UPSET BY UPSET
Giant-striding Man o' War, with Johnny Loftus up, was an odds-on favorite to win the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga 35 years ago this week. But when a substitute starter sprang the barrier prematurely, the chestnut was left at the post, three lengths behind pace-setting Golden Broom. In the stretch, Golden Broom faded and Man o' War chased Upset to the wire, losing by a scant neck. It was Man o' War's only defeat in two years of racing.