When Financier Lou Wolfson's undefeated Raise a Native retired from the 2-year-old skirmishes in midsummer with tendon trouble, a lot of racegoers who had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of a true champion were reduced to melancholy. Not the least disconsolate was Wolfson himself. "When you lose a horse like Raise a Native it's a terrible blow," he said mournfully last Saturday as he stood in the Aqueduct paddock watching the field of 11 youngsters parade before the 92nd running of the one-mile Champagne Stakes. "About the best you can do is hope that something else in your stable can be a suitable substitute.
"Roman Brother just might be the replacement we're looking for," Wolfson said as he studied a compact little gelding he picked up for $23,500 last winter. There was no need for Wolfson to add something that the crowd of 50,732 had already discovered in the form sheets: Roman Brother had won the only three races of his young career.
A few minutes later Roman Brother made it four for four. The gelding by Third Brother out of the Roman mare Roman Zephyr took the Champagne by four and a half lengths from the Hopeful winner, Traffic. With the victory went a nice little pot of $152,150, which, even if it doesn't make Wolfson forget Raise a Native, certainly won't do his bank account any harm.
Where does all this leave the 2-year-old situation? Well, I think it leaves it pretty much on the backs of just two horses, both undefeated, Roman Brother and Mary Fisher's Golden Ruler, winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity (SI, Sept. 16).
A lot of horsemen would have you believe—as they often do at this time of year—that the whole 2-year-old division is pretty ordinary, which is a word they love to toss around. Nobody really can tell how good the crop is just yet, but now, as the distances stretch out, it is reasonable to make a tentative evaluation. It's fun to try one's own Experimental, and do it now, before the official Experimental Handicap ratings are published in January.
The Experimental is a handicapper's projection of what any bunch of 2-year-olds might develop into as 3-year-olds. These juveniles are going to make up the fields for next year's Triple Crown races, and the difficulty of putting together an Experimental is that you are attempting to guess what a horse who is running at seven and eight furlongs now will do at a mile and a quarter later on.
The development of winter racing makes this task increasingly complicated. Form will be changing constantly in the next six months. Consider, too, that many of next year's better 3-year-olds haven't started yet, and so we have no form on them at all. I have handicapped the Experimental served up for consideration on this page on the basis of current 2-year-olds going a theoretical mile and a sixteenth at the very end of this year, rather than pounding a mile and a quarter next May. To claim that it is any kind of definitive rating of 3-year-old form would be madness.
So here is my Experimental; it includes some unfamiliar names, and these belong to horses which seem to have potential, though they have not yet had a full chance to prove it.