First among the thrills of the fall racing season are the emergence and development of the sport's new potential celebrities: the 2-year-olds.
The fact about them is: after eight months of racing there is no clear-cut 2-year-old champion of 1957 as yet. The prediction: the next six weeks will produce an exciting new one.
These youngsters, just like devilish schoolboys, are a fascinating lot. The toughest to train, subject invariably to every trackside variety of childhood diseases, every 2-year-old in the country today—and there are probably over 5,000 of them in training—is nonetheless a candidate for, and therefore possible winner of, next May's Kentucky Derby. Their careers have varied greatly since last January 1. Some, having raced very early, are already on the shelf. Others, starting later in the East, in Chicago or at Hollywood Park, have won impressively one day, lost unimpressively the next. And still another group, just back from Saratoga or flexing muscles hopefully at Belmont Park, is ready to burst into action in quest of the rich stakes on the calendar during the next six weeks.
Two-year-old racing has always played a vital part in our over-all turf setup. But in the old days, following The Hopeful at Saratoga, you had a pretty fair idea of who the best young colts were, and these few survivors of a season which rarely saw any 2-year-old start before late June or early July, then battled for the championship among themselves in the Belmont and Pimlico Futurities. Today the picture has changed. Racing goes on 12 months at over 30 major tracks (and at some 50 or more minor ones). From a track management's point of view, no major track can keep pace with progressive competition without offering huge purses and presenting a program of real variety. With more 2-year-olds in training than any other age group, it has become only natural that much of the purse money has got to go into the 2-year-old stakes. Eastern critics of western racing like to point out the folly of offering $100,000 for 2-year-olds going six furlongs in July—a distance many New York trainers believe to be excessive before mid-August. Western tracks reply that potentially top horses can go six furlongs in July and the only way to lure them is to offer more attractive purses than are to be found in New York or New Jersey.
From the owner's standpoint there are some obvious points that should be mentioned. Every owner would like to make some money with his horses (although a few with such extensive wide-ranging operations as Calumet, Llangollen and Greentree know that a year-end profit is next to impossible). Any man who can afford a race horse to begin with should be able to afford to "carry" that horse along until he's ready to race at his best form. But it doesn't always work this way. A lot of owners want the fastest possible return on their investment and, faced with this self-created economic problem, will rush 2-year-olds into the starting gate at the earliest possible chance. Some win, some come close, but the tragedy of it all is that hundreds every year wind up hopelessly broken down because they never had a fair chance. Of course, there is another way to look at it. If you have a short-bred horse (who doesn't figure—on his breeding—to develop into a stayer), you're being smart rather than greedy in going after all the money you can as fast as you can. Racing early you avoid the competition you know would be coming from the big "waiting" stables and, after all, $100,000 picked up at Hollywood Park in July is just as comforting as $100,000 earned at Belmont in September. In the end, it's all in the way you look at it. The greedy man, as opposed to the owner of a big breeding stable, has an economic problem which he wants to solve, and in doing so he obviously contributes nothing to the future of racing because he puts out of his mind altogether the old principle that the main object of all Thoroughbred racing is to develop classic distance horses. This fellow can draw a parallel to his unfortunate contemporary in England. Over there a man can't afford to race unless he wins a big bet. Over here, some will argue, a man can't afford to race unless he wins a big pot.
To get back to some of the 2-year-olds who have made a name for themselves to date. If a standout had to be named right now, it would have to be Fred Hooper's Alhambra, who has been the star of the Chicago season. Hooper won the Kentucky Derby with the first horse he ever owned (Hoop Jr.) and last year turned up with Greek Game, who, like Alhambra, is a son of Olympia. Being a son of Olympia hardly guarantees distance ability. Alhambra has a few questions still to answer but Hooper thinks he's the best 2-year-old he's ever owned, and both he and Trainer Chuck Parke think this brown colt will keep rolling along despite an occasional tendency to loaf at the wrong time. To back up their convictions they have brought him to Belmont where he'll not only get the chance to meet tougher horses than he's yet faced but also to run over a deeper track, which, as many Midwesterners have found out, has often been the downfall of a Chicago summer star. One strong recommendation for Alhambra comes from Eddie Arcaro, who is his regular rider. "He's a colt with a lot of fire in him," says Eddie, "but in his only legitimate defeat (to Maine Chance Farm's Jewel's Reward in the Washington Park Futurity) he suddenly unbuckled on me at the eighth pole when I thought I had the race won. I don't understand it. He's good, though—the best 2-year-old I've ridden this year—so far."
Picking a runner-up to Alhambra—strictly on his performance to date—is not simple. In New York and Jersey, for example, there is some remarkable inconsistency. Eleven stakes have been won by 10 different colts: Bolero U, Jester, Jewel's Reward, Jimmer, Rose Trellis, Louis d'Or, Wing Jet, Grey Monarch, Plion and, most recently, Li'l Fella. The biggest headlines in California were made by Old Pueblo, Fleet Nasrullah and Strong Ruler, but none of the achievements of any of these youngsters—yet—would suggest that they own any claim to the title, for, after all, one or even two wins (even in a rich stake) does not qualify a horse to be classified as the best of his age. He must beat the best, and beat them with some degree of consistency.
Among the fillies there has thus far been one standout in much the same way that Alhambra leads the colts. She is Mrs. George Zauderer's Poly Hi, who has already won six stakes in her short career. Some of her contemporaries, like Idun, Hasty Doll, Margaretta, Melody Mine, Sally Lee, Bridgework, Sequoia, Amorial, Pocahontas, Noordeen, Polamby and Gleaming Star have not been as successful, but by the end of the fall Poly Hi will have faced some of these over a longer route, and possibly new conclusions can be drawn.
The exciting part about this 2-year-old season is that we can almost be positive that at least one very fine colt is lurking in the wings. "So little has been developed in the short stakes that we can at least hope for some development in the fall," remarked Jimmy Kilroe, racing secretary in New York and at Santa Anita, recently. "Of course there's more big money in the fall for 2-year-olds, and this makes a lot of people wait. Another thing that made them wait this year was that more horses had the cough than usual."
People interested in racing 2-year-olds who can afford to wait until fall are becoming more numerous every year. By the same token, it isn't too often in recent seasons that the colts who were most highly thought of in August have held their reputations through October. Take last season as an example. Of today's leading 3-year-olds, a year ago on this date only Bold Ruler (who had established his class early in the season) was mentioned as the possible leader of his age. There was little talk of Iron Liege, Gen. Duke, Gallant Man and Round Table. But there was a lot of talk about King Hairan, Greek Game, California Kid, Cohoes, Prince Khaled. It would then seem that, if last season (and many other seasons too) have produced top older runners from among those who did nothing to distinguish themselves as 2-year-olds, there must surely be some hidden talent around this season too.
Some of it, as we have mentioned before, is hiding in the Calumet barns. One Calumet colt, Kentucky Pride, a Bull Lea out of Blue Delight, smothered his opposition in his only two starts. Two others, a Tom Fool colt named Tim Tarn and a Citation named Temple Hill, have earned the highest praise from Trainer Jimmy Jones even before their first starts. Still another is a full brother to Mark-Ye-Well named Seventy-Six, described as a monster in size but quick on his feet. Some of the other talent isn't exactly hiding but just has been a little slow in coming to hand. For instance, the two best 2-year-olds at Saratoga last month may have been a couple who never won a stake; one is Greentree's Prank, the other A.B. Hancock's Nadir. Prank is another Tom Fool (whose first crop also includes George Widener's Jester), and he looked very impressive in winning his first start, although, as Jockey Ted Atkinson was quick to point out afterwards, "Don't forget he was running with other maidens and you can't tell what he'll do against top opposition. However I will say that his ability to overcome difficulties (he was almost left at the gate) reminds me of Tom Fool, and there was never any hesitation about his getting rolling. After that I could have rated him with a shoestring." Greentree Trainer John Gaver, who is as patient a man with his horses as can be found on any race track today, likes Prank's wonderful disposition but is in no particular hurry to rush him into the tough races until he's ready. Another Tom Fool (out of Paddleduck) named Donald looks good to Gaver but, as John puts it, "He's a great big colt and is slow to come around. I think we'll probably wait with him till next year." A couple of other Greentrees worth keeping an eye on, however, are Turpitude, a chestnut son of Shut Out, and Fleagle, a son of Your Host.
Nadir must rank as the largest good 2-year-old in training. He is a bay son of Nasrullah, with a big bold eye and a good deal of his daddy's unpredictable temperament. One afternoon at Saratoga he unseated his rider on the way to the post and, once there, had the gate crew working overtime to keep him under control.
Among the other 2-year-olds who show signs of further development already are Sir Ruler, Hit The Trail, Fleet Feet, Crasher, Hip Hip Hurray, Whitley, Circle Lea, Disdainful, Nasco, Counterspy and Misty Flight. There are obviously many many more than those named here, but the trouble with trying to pick them out now is that more and more horsemen are employing the so-called "Calumet Pattern" in bringing along their young stock. It is said among racetrackers that Calumet is in favor of year-around 2-year-old racing—for everybody but themselves. The pattern is simple: sit back and let the other guy race (and often wear out) his 2-year-olds until you're ready to jump in at the end of the season and mop up the richest races. Calumet has always been cautious with their 2-year-olds. They bring them along with meticulous slowness, teaching each one individually rather than hurling him into too many early races to learn by experience. In California the trend is more in this direction now than ever before. Lou Rowan, president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, was commenting on it just the other day. "If they [Californians] have a precocious colt bred for speed," he said, "they will run him. You had just as well get that money then. But if he gives an indication of going a distance, a lot of experienced horsemen are following Calumet's pattern of waiting." In looking at the over-all national picture, Jimmy Kilroe thinks that possibly one of the reasons California may be producing better horses (aside from the obvious fact that western breeding stock has improved so much in recent years) is that California has an ideal program for a man of patience. "After Hollywood Park and the two big 2-year-old stakes at Del Mar," he observes, "there's nothing much left for them out there, and owners have a perfect chance to wait and let their horses grow and develop before the tough 3-year-old season ahead. By contrast, in the East we have so many attractive 2-year-old fall stakes that there's no telling how many potentially top 3-year-olds are overworked too soon and thereby ruin whatever chance they might have had to turn into top classic contenders."
In the next few weeks the men who have waited long enough will join those who are trying to get the last bit of run out of already overworked young colts and fillies in a series of 2-year-old races with staggering financial possibilities. After the Belmont Futurity (at 6 l/2 furlongs on September 28) the distance stretches out: the Champagne at a mile, the Garden State and Pimlico Special at a mile and a sixteenth—and, for slightly lesser purses, the Remsen, Breeders Futurity and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. A colt good enough to win three of these could take home up to $350,000.
Racing men have argued over the wisdom of trying to stretch a 2-year-old out to these longer distances. The points are good on both sides. Two seasons back the best fall 2-year-old distance runners were Prince John, Needles and Career Boy. Prince John was injured later, but both Needles and Career Boy went on and the next spring finished one-two in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes. But now take last year, and for our example let's use the Garden State, Remsen, Pimlico Futurity (all at a mile and a sixteenth) and the one-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Of all the colts who finished in the first four positions in these four stakes only two this year have been able to run farther than one mile in creditable fashion. This fact obviously could be merely a combination of circumstances, but it can also stand as a pretty fair testimony to the fact that winning—or even placing—the richest distance races can hardly be an accurate yardstick by which to gauge the following year's form.
So the major fascination for the keen racegoer this fall should not be so much in envying the earnings of one or two get-rich-quick colts but rather in trying to pick the colt with the ability to win the 1958 classics. The best-bred and costliest products aren't always the best. Llangollen Farm's Rise 'n Shine, the $87,000 1956 yearling (most expensive yearling ever sold at auction in the U.S.) has yet to show top form. "Although he's got good action," says Eddie Arcaro, "you can't tell what he's got inside—where it counts." The overnight heroes are not always the lasting ones: last year Calumet's Barbizon won the richest race in the world and hasn't done a thing since.
But somewhere in the fields going postward during the next few weeks is another crop of Gallant Mans, Iron Lieges, Bold Rulers and Round Tables.
To find them could be expensive as well as difficult—but anyway will be a lot of fun.
ALHAMBRA, Fred Hooper's midwestern hero, is pro tem leader of the 2-year-olds.
FROM OUT OF JUST SUCH A MAD 2-YEAR-OLD SCRAMBLE AS THIS ONE, SHOWING 25 YOUNGSTERS FLYING DOWN BELMONT'S WIDENER CHUTE, A NEW CHAMPION MAY EMERGE
KENTUCKY PRIDE, a Calumet hope and son of Bull Lea, won his only two starts.
TEMPLE HILL, thinks serious Calumet Trainer Jimmy Jones, may be his real ace.
JESTER, from Tom Fool's first crop, was George D. Widener's Belmont spring star.
OLD PUEBLO, who may be the best yet from California, is son of Windy City II.