The day before Quadrangle won last week's 95th running of the historic Travers at Saratoga, his regular rider. Manuel Ycaza, sat by his locker in the jocks' room and, with the deliberate coolness that often marks his riding performances in the afternoon, discussed the horse that he hopes to guide to the season's 3-year-old championship.
"This horse," he began, speaking as much with his strong, well-formed hands as with his appealing, Latin-accented voice, "is not the easiest horse in the world to ride, and he's not the hardest either. You just got to understand him, because he tries to fool you. The thing is that he gets away with it, too. He's big and powerful, but he tries to loaf, and sometimes he tries to loaf whether he's in front or not." Manuel got up to put on clean silks for the next race and then continued, "but this horse and I get along O.K. I understand him now, and tomorrow he won't fool me." Tucking his shirttail in, Ycaza smiled once more and added, "You know, I have the feeling that they will bounce this horse Hill Rise out of the gate and try to run away from the rest of us. If they do, that will be fine by me, because I can rate Quadrangle anywhere I want, and that means on the lead, or just off it, or from way back." He waved his whip and walked out to ride.
While Saratogians partied, played and whooped it up Friday night, the rains came. Early Saturday morning, after Quadrangle galloped slowly once around the muddy track, Elliott Burch, who trains him for Virginia Sportsman and Financier Paul Mellon, sipped nervously at a cup of coffee and gave an appraisal of his own. "I don't like to see any big, important race run in the mud, because the results aren't always true. Sure, we won the Pimlico Futurity by 10 lengths in the slop, but in doing it Quadrangle left practically all his equipment on the track. He has a habit of 'running down' [driving his heels through the soft top-soil and scraping his fetlocks]." Burch, who can be as nervous as Ycaza is cool, looked at the Travers entry list and then at the falling rain. "This track," he moaned, "moves Knightly Manner up 10 lengths."
With 22,356 in attendance on a dismally wet afternoon, it remained for Quadrangle himself to make the day a complete success for both Ycaza and Burch and Owner Mellon. He was the 3-to-10 favorite in this five-horse field, and at the start of the classic mile-and-a-quarter race Ycaza quickly showed that he had kept at least one trick up his canary-yellow silk sleeves. "I wanted Pierce on Hill Rise to think that I was going to take the lead from the gate," he said later, "so I busted out of the gate real good. Just as soon as Pierce saw me he sent Hill Rise by me. That's exactly what I wanted, because now I folded up on my horse and tucked him in two lengths behind Hill Rise, where I wanted to be."
For the first mile of the Travers that was just about the way the field held—Hill Rise pumping along in the lead, with Quadrangle second but always within challenging distance. Knightly Manner, meanwhile, had started last but moved up to third rounding the far turn, and when the three of them went into their drives, one of the best horse races of the year was on. In the stretch run, with Hill Rise on the inside. Quadrangle in the middle and Knightly Manner flying over the mud on the outside, the trio brought the crowd to its feet in a long, excited roar.
His pace-setting role in the slop slowly took its toll of Hill Rise, however, and it remained for Knightly Manner to provide the finishing thrill. Under a brilliant drive by Jockey Howard Grant, the son of Round Table was gaining slowly on Quadrangle, who led by a length at the eighth pole. Grant cut the margin to half a length at the 16th pole. Ycaza had hit Quadrangle a few times up to then, but he settled down to a punishing hand ride. Knightly Manner hung ever so slightly at the 70-yard marker and never did get closer. Quadrangle took home the winner's purse of $52,032.50 by the same half length, while Knightly Manner was a length ahead of Hill Rise. The two other starters, Portfolio and Ramant, were another 12 lengths up the track as Quadrangle won his fifth race in 11 starts this season, in 2:04 2/5.
"He is supposed to like the slop," said a jubilant Ycaza afterward, "but I really don't think he does. He was sliding and slipping all over the place. I think he would have done much better on a fast track."
Quadrangle should get his fast track when he tackles the big guns of the handicap division in such weight-for-age races this fall as the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but at the moment it looks as though a decisive meeting between the Belmont Stakes and Travers winner and Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer may not come off this year, if ever. Just before he was scheduled to be shipped to Saratoga, Northern Dancer went out for a work at Belmont Park on an off track and somehow managed to rap himself. The wound did not respond fully to treatment, and at the moment it is doubtful that Northern Dancer will ever get back to the races.
Who then winds up as the 3-year-old champion—an early-season sensation who goes on the shelf in July or a midsummer sensation who bowls them over in the fall? Horatio Luro, trainer of Northern Dancer, knows that a horse's most recent races are foremost in the pollsters' minds when November voting time comes around. "I do hope they do not forget those many fine races Northern Dancer won," he says. "He was so terrific for so long." However, the ability to survive a rigorous season is an important quality in any champion, and certainly Quadrangle is fully sound now and always has been. Even more important is the fact that he appears ready for a strong fall campaign.