For some years now All Fool's Day has been the signal for the start of the New York racing season. Whether this was originally a wry jest on the part of an Albany solon or just happenstance is moot. The fact remains that the opening of Jamaica on April 1 means that spring is here to those who tell the seasons by the horses.
This year while the Jamaica program with its three-year-old stakes and Derby previews is as provocative as ever, those interested in the future of New York racing will be as concerned about what is happening up in Albany as by what is going on at the track.
For this week starts the hearings on the Jockey Club plan to rehabilitate local race tracks. The plan would change Belmont completely, modernize Saratoga, eliminate Jamaica and perhaps Aqueduct, although this last is uncertain. John W. Hanes, chairman of the special committee of the Jockey Club, is more optimistic about the plan's chances than some. But even he points out there are four important hurdles. Once legislative approval is obtained then the minimum $30,000,000 must be raised; then after impartial appraisal must come the sale of the Jamaica and/or Aqueduct properties. Finally, there is need for the blessing of the State Racing Commission.
Should Albany give the nod, the transformation of Belmont might start directly after its spring meeting. The fall get-together would then be held at Aqueduct because of the 'chase schedules. So the golden anniversary of Belmont Park (it opened in 1905) may be celebrated with a face lifting and a new permanent.
While the Jockey Club fights it out at Albany, the three-year-olds will be fighting the pre-Derby battle at Jamaica. Highlight of the meeting is again the Wood Memorial, April 23, the all-important preview of the Kentucky Derby. The first Saturday, April 2, will see the Experimental Free Handicap in which the contenders carry weights assigned by Jimmy Kilroe, the official handicapper, at the end of their two-year-old campaign last year.
Paul Andolino, owner of the unbeaten mystery challenger Boston Doge, requested Jamaica stall space in February, and unless he changes his mind (again!) the colt with a mere 114 pounds should be a sure starter. He could win it in the same free-running manner as Errard King did last year. As the top three-year-olds who always get high imposts usually sit this one out, we'll probably first see Summer Tan, the colt who topped them all, in an overnight race or two early in the meeting. Nashua, the Flamingo winner, is running in the Florida Derby this week. But Roman Patrol, winner of the Louisiana Derby, is in training at Belmont and apparently, in fine fettle.
Down at Bowie, where Maryland racing got its traditional spring send-off, there are three interesting handicaps a week apart. The price tag goes up each time, reaching $75,000 in the John B. Campbell Memorial April 9. Joe Jones and C. V. Whitney's Fisherman are entered in all three. Joe Jones has been running at Santa Anita but Fisherman is fresh from a long vacation in South Carolina. Alfred Vanderbilt's Social Outcast, whose weight penalty beat him in the Widener, is trying only for the Campbell Memorial. But he'll be hard to beat, so the chances of anyone knocking off all three handicaps is slim. The meeting winds up with the $30,000 added Governor's Gold Cup for three-year-olds (April 16) which just might dig up a sharp Maryland contender for the Derby.
Willie Hartack and Chicago's Nick Shuk are engaged in an exciting riding duel down yonder. So far the boy from Pennsylvania, Hartack, is leading.
The atmosphere of Maryland racing is different from anywhere else. Everyone there is horse-wise, everyone knows the score. It's horse country, they're racing folk, and proud of it.