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A saga to reckon with

In California a fairy-tale horse has caught the fancy of all and risen to the top of his class

The first $100,000 race of the 1959 season was a real dingdong, gang-busting scrap. It was the 12th running of the Santa Anita Maturity, the most prestigious and richest of all races for 4-year-olds (last Saturday's total purse came to $177,150). Hillsdale, the newly adopted darling of West Coast racing, roared out of the gate at the top of the stretch and, under the astute handling of an obscure jockey named Thomas Barrow, immediately gave chase to Willie Shoemaker, who was aboard Mrs. Elizabeth Arden Graham's Jewel's Reward. By the time these two horses reached the grandstand, the jam-packed crowd of more than 53,000 sensed that a nerve-twanging horse race was in the making.

From that point until they turned for home, it was a two-horse race between Hillsdale and Jewel's Reward, with Eddie Arcaro holding Warhead in a comfortable fourth position. But then Jewel's Reward faded and Warhead lost interest. Up on the outside from a trailing position burst Llangollen Farm's Royal Living, carrying 11 pounds less than Hillsdale's 123 and moving like an angry tailwind. Barrow, riding in the first 100-grander of his career, took the whip to Hillsdale, the first time he had ever struck the horse in the six times he has ridden him. Weary as he was, Hillsdale hung on for the last painful strides and crossed the finish line a winner by three-quarters of a length and richer by $91,150. The saga of Hillsdale was now, without any question, one of the most unique and colorful success stories to pop up around any race track in years.

Last fall, when Hillsdale had wound up the season as one of the very few sound 3-year-olds in the U.S., he had won seven of his 14 starts and $123,665. Now he has won six straight stakes, four of them at Santa Anita, and increased his earnings to $285,995. He has beaten Round Table, Jewel's Reward, Warhead and everything else in sight on the West Coast. Not bad for a colt that cost only $25,000.

Hillsdale is owned by a jovial, smiling sports buff named Clarence W. (Smitty) Smith, who, among other things, is president of an engineering company he owns in Detroit. Smitty also owns a stable of young boxers, many of whom work at various odd jobs for him. Formerly a pro football player of no particular distinction, Smitty prefers the company of athletes and stable hands to the fancies around the turf club and will even bunk down in the stall with Hillsdale.

Smitty got into racing in 1947 when he bought a horse named Roscoe Goose for $700 as a favor to a friend. For years he had nothing but bum luck around the Midwest circuit. Then, early last year, he came to an important conclusion that he puts this way: "Don't ever own a cheap horse, because it's the most expensive thing you'll ever own." So Smitty commissioned a veterinarian friend of his to buy him something good. At the Fair Grounds track in New Orleans the vet saw Hillsdale, who had been foaled at the Evansville, Ind. farm of Mrs. Helen Kellogg. Smitty's friend gave Mrs. Kellogg $25,000 for the colt, mainly because he liked his conformation.


The next problem for Smitty and his able trainer, Marty Fallon, was to find a top jockey for Hillsdale. When none of the big-name jocks showed any interest, the two men remembered a 26-year-old, 5-foot 6½-inch stringbean named Tom Barrow, whose riding they had admired around Detroit and New England. Barrow, of course, was delighted with the assignment, and he has ridden Hillsdale in his last five victories. Although he is now in his 11th year of riding, Barrow has never before appeared on the Arcaro-Shoemaker circuit, and were it not for Hillsdale he might be eating only part-time; of the 40 mounts besides Hillsdale that Barrow has had so far at Santa Anita, not one has come in, and he says with a shrug: "It don't look like I'm going to get any other winners either."

That Smitty, Fallon and Barrow were able to cash in on the Maturity last Saturday is due to a welcome change in the conditions of this rich 4-year-old race. Heretofore it accepted no supplementary nominations, so that many top runners who had not been named as yearlings were excluded. This year supplementary nominations were accepted for $10,000, making it possible for both Hillsdale and Warhead to enter.

With this, his biggest victory, behind him, Hillsdale must now be reckoned as the handicap horse to watch through the rest of the winter season. After the San Antonio Handicap on February 14 comes the "big race"—the Santa Anita Handicap on February 28. There, Hillsdale, carrying a mere 113 pounds, will again face Round Table, who has to pack 132 over the mile and a quarter. Smitty and his friends could not be happier.

Early as it may be to evaluate the California-based 3-year-olds, my first impression is that there is quality—and plenty of it—at Santa Anita this winter. Although none of the five top prospects are actually California-bred, Santa Anita crowds have already adopted them as Westerners and established them as their leading candidates to dethrone that outstanding eastern colt, First Landing, who is now a heavy favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.

Among the fine California prospects for 1959 one inevitably thinks first of Fred Turner Jr.'s Tomy Lee, who made such a good impression in New York and New Jersey last fall while losing by a neck and then by a head to First Landing. Tomy Lee may have been a trifle short while losing his first start at seven furlongs two weeks ago, but Trainer Frank Childs has no doubts about his ability to travel as far as necessary for the classic distances. However, there are some who feel that Tomy Lee may not have filled out quite the way a maturing colt should have after his layoff, and that this deficiency will tell on him when the distances stretch out.

Tomy Lee's conqueror in the San Vicente Stakes was a truly handsome colt who carries on the tongue-twisting California tradition of slightly misspelled names. They call him Ole Fols. He and his stablemate, Finnegan, are definitely worth watching. Both are owned by Neil S. McCarthy, a lawyer and former high-goal polo player who is one of the most knowledgeable horsemen in California racing. Despite the fact that it was Ole Fols who turned the trick on Tomy Lee—with Finnegan third—it is Finnegan who may be the more likely distance prospect. Ole Fols, like Tomy Lee, is by Tudor Minstrel and was bred in England. In one of his first races of the year he used his great speed to set a new Santa Anita track record of 1:08 4/5 for six furlongs early in the meeting. At the seven-furlong San Vicente distance the advantage was all his over the come-from-behind runners. Santa Anita is a tough track on which to run down speed horses, for they are not inclined to tire in the firm footing. You have to go get them. That is why Finnegan attracted so much attention: in the San Vicente, although both Ole Fols and Tomy Lee were doing a lot of running in front of him, Finnegan was going strongly at them at the finish.

Another attractive 3-year-old here is Royal Orbit, trained by Reggie Cornell, who ran into such frustrations last year with Silky Sullivan. Owned by Helena Gregory Braunstein, this is a Royal Charger colt, and hence of doubtful quality over a distance. So Cornell is biding his time before hooking him with too much early competition. Another promising colt—although untested locally—is Ray Bell's Getaway II, who shared top weight of 133 pounds in the Irish Free Handicap last year. A son of Solonaway, Getaway II will be brought along slowly.

Inasmuch as two of these five colts (Tomy Lee and Ole Fols) are by Tudor Minstrel and two (Finnegan and Royal Orbit) are by Royal Charger, it is worth noting that in England, where they both raced, Tudor Minstrel was considered a middle-distance runner and Royal Charger a sprinter. Tudor Minstrel won the Two Thousand Guineas in his year, while Royal Charger led in his Two Thousand Guineas (over a flat mile), then disappointed and finished third.

The real West Coast test will come on March 7 in the mile-and-an-eighth Santa Anita Derby. Tomy Lee, on his outstanding record as a 2-year-old, is already a clearly established quantity. If there is anything at Santa Anita to beat him at more than a mile, I would have to say it was Finnegan—who, incidentally, is named for McCarthy's trainer, Bill Finnegan. But is anything in California going to beat First Landing? That question will have to wait at least until the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on April 4, where East will first meet West in 1959.