As the eleven 2-year-olds paraded . slowly into the starting gate for last week's 56th running of the $119,350 Hopeful, the six-and-a-half-furlong test which traditionally closes the Saratoga meeting, some misinformed experts described them as "just a pickup field shooting for the moon." None of these colts, they felt, deserved rating with such former Hopeful winners as Whirlaway, Middleground, Native Dancer, Nashua and First Landing.
But exactly one minute and 16 seconds later the "experts" were silent and the crowd of 22,135 was buzzing with amazement. Hail to Reason (SI, Aug. 29) smothered his 10 rivals by 10 lengths in a track-record performance that established this son of Turn-To as an animal of exceptional quality.
The sore shins which had bothered Hail to Reason in his loss the previous week just weren't sore any more. They had been treated by repeated painting with white iodine (something his trainer, Hirsch Jacobs, decided upon after remembering he had once used it to cure one of his toes of minor corn trouble), and Hail to Reason never looked better. Nor, as it turned out, could he ever have felt better.
After drawing the outside post position, Jacobs had some solid advice for Jockey Bobby Ussery. Earlier in the week he had argued with the New York Racing Association brass over what he called the uneven condition of the track. "I told Bobby to work his way over to the inside," said Jacobs. "Running on the outside here is like running on a different track. It's so much deeper."
That was all Ussery needed to know. Hail to Reason did the rest of the afternoon's job for him. Ussery allowed Safe Swap to set the early pace while laying back behind Bronzerullah in third place. But at the quarter pole Ussery let the colt out a notch, and it was as though Hail to Reason had run afoul of a hornets' nest. In a flash he left his field behind, once and for all. The amazing thing about him is that he gives the impression of just starting to run as he hits the finish. If this is so, he should be unbeatable in the longer races this fall and next year. Bronzerullah held on to finish second by two and a half lengths over Chinchilla, who had come all the way up from last place. Neither of these two, however, was gaining an inch on the leader, and the others in the field, strung out up the track, were as beaten as horses can be.
Owner Patrice Jacobs and her father-trainer won't say when Hail to Reason will make his next start (this was his 17th this season), but they are thinking about the World's Playground Stakes at Atlantic City on Sept. 10 and the Champagne Stakes in New York on Oct. 15.
"As everyone seems to know by now," said Jacobs, "I believe racing is better for this colt than just a lot of training. Actually, I also think that he's been green for a good deal of his career and that he's just now starting to know what it's all about."
Jacobs looked over his big (16 hands 2 inches) and still-growing brown colt and added, "I guess the thing I like best of all about him is that all of his winning races have been in good time. Winning races in slow time over ordinary opposition doesn't mean a great deal. But when you beat the best they send at you in real honest-to-goodness race-horse time, then you can start thinking you've really got something.
"This colt can go an eighth of a mile in better than 11 seconds any time we ask him to do it. I've just got to believe that he'll not only go fast, but he'll go far, too. Yes, sir, fast and far."