What is it that makes Saratoga a place of legends? There must be something in the clear air or in the sap that drips from the giant elms to make greatness almost commonplace. The most famous race at the upstate New York track is the Travers, which is the oldest stake in the country and an event often called the Midsummer Derby. Last Saturday, a record crowd of 35,530 went out to see the 108th running and they witnessed another race to remember, although the two best 3-year-olds in the land, Seattle Slew and J. O. Tobin, were not in the field.
Students of Saratoga form know two things. Horses that ship in from other sections of the country seldom win the Travers and the victor usually has a blue-blooded owner and pedigree. But that was not the case this time, when the entries from the Midwest—Jatski, Run Dusty Run and Silver Series—finished one-two-three. Run Dusty Run went under the wire a nose in front of Jatski but a few minutes later the colt was disqualified for repeated interference through the stretch and Jatski's number moved up from place to win on the tote board. Rarely does a race of 1¼ miles come down to a nose decision and seldom is a horse disqualified in such an important stake.
For nearly a month the Travers was building to be a major spectacle. Silver Series and Jatski, who had missed the Triple Crown races, were winning major events in Illinois, Ohio and Nebraska. Silver Series had strung together wins in the Hawthorne, Ohio and American Derbies, while Jatski had run off with the Omaha Gold Cup and President's Cup at Ak-Sar-Ben, plus the Governor's Cup at Arlington Park. Affiliate, after finishing behind J. O. Tobin but ahead of Seattle Slew in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, had won the $100,000 Monmouth Invitational to move near the head of his class. Run Dusty Run, who had been second to Seattle Slew in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont, and third in the Preakness, was looking for his first win since early March and the Travers seemed to be a perfect spot, a race that would give him not only a sizable purse but some needed prestige as well.
Late in May the words of Trainer Bill Cole had seemed foolish. "I believe that Jatski is the second-best 3-year-old in the country," he said then. "I'm not going to say that Jatski is as good as Seattle Slew, but he has tremendous ability and before this season is over people will see it. He's big and he can run. He had only one race as a 2-year-old and he won. Now he's starting to come into his own. He's a Cinderella horse."
Jatski is all of that. He is owned by William and Myrtle Murray of Clearwater Fla. The Murrays paid $8,000 for him as an unraced 2-year-old while he was standing in a tomato patch near Braden-ton, Fla. "I'm 75 now," Bill Murray says, "and I didn't get interested in horses until five years ago. Too many people who get to be the age of Myrtle and myself don't take on new interests. But we decided to and we've loved it. We've had about a dozen horses in all, and next to Jatski I'd say my favorite is Dump Truck, who runs at River Downs. I'm retired from the citrus business and we first got fascinated by horses while driving to our groves in the morning. We'd go by Florida Downs and stop to watch the horses working out. I know that people say Jatski isn't very well bred. He's by Jatullah from Ski and his name comes from that."
Jatullah? He ran in 45 races in four years and won three of them to earn $9,310. Yet the sire of Jatullah is Jaipur, who 15 years ago ran in the Travers, and like this year, it was a stirring battle. People still talk of how Jaipur and Ridan hooked up and ran nostril to nostril for 10 punishing furlongs. When the finish photo was developed, it showed Jaipur's nose barely in front. Saratogians feel no race could ever be better. How remarkable then that Jaipur's grandson should take what is certain to be remembered as the second or third most interesting Travers (it could be argued that Jim Dandy's 1930 upset, at 100 to 1, of Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox was more notable), as well as the most desperate race of this 3-year-old season.
Silver Series seemed to beat the gate at the start, emerging a good length in front of the field. He carried his lead to the top of the stretch where Run Dusty Run moved alongside, and Jatski quickly was lapped on Run Dusty. Silver Series was racing against the rail, Run Dusty Run farther out and Jatski perhaps five horse widths from the inside. Silver Series fought for as long as he could, but then Run Dusty and Jatski went by. Jockey Darrel McHargue was whipping Run Dusty left-handed while Sam Maple was working Jatski with his right hand. Run Dusty, who was drifting, hit Jatski, straightened out for a few strides and then bumped Jatski again. The battling and drifting had taken the two out to the center of the racetrack. Now Jatski came in to bump Run Dusty. Then Run Dusty hit Jatski again.
The two looked like marathon dancers leaning on each other for survival. At the finish Run Dusty came out once more and it was obvious that the stewards would put up the inquiry sign and that Maple would lodge a claim of foul against McHargue. Thousands of fans immediately gathered around television sets to see the replay and the reason for the judges' decision.
Bud Hyland, the steward representing The Jockey Club, said later, "In some cases the vote of the judges might be 2-1, but all three of us saw this race the same. It was our conclusion that Run Dusty Run drifted out under McHargue and severely penalized Jatski." Others at Saratoga felt that, while contact was made, both horses were guilty and that at no time during the stretch run did McHargue's actions cause Maple to stop riding hard. When Run Dusty's number came down, and he was placed second, his trainer, Smiley Adams, stood on the track looking up into the stewards' stand, shouting imprecations. It must be hell on earth to train Run Dusty Run. The poor horse seems doomed to tough luck. In 11 starts this season he has only finished as far back as fourth once, but he still has only two wins to his credit, neither one in a stakes.
Cole, Jatski's trainer, stood by the winner's circle after the decision had been reached and said, "I've never won a race on a disqualification. But I've probably lost six or seven of them. I've said that Jatski was second best to Seattle Slew. Now I'd like to see them hook up. On behalf of the owners, I'm offering to put up $100,000 if the Slew people will put up $100,000. But the match race must be in the Midwest, not in New York. Having these horses finish one-two-three is a great thing for Midwestern racing. People in the East and West always knock our racing. Well, one-two-three should show them something."
Ten minutes after the race Steward Gerard Burke entered the jockeys' room and called Maple and McHargue to a screening room where the race was shown again and McHargue was told why his number was taken down. "Run Dusty Run is not easy to ride," Darrel said later. "Today he ran his heart out and ran a winning race. He needed to win one after the kind of tough-luck year he's had. I feel awful about this, particularly for Smiley Adams. Run Dusty is so game, and now to have this happen on top of everything else. When I saw the films I looked like an inexperienced rider, but the race was a tough one."
"I've seen quite a bit of Run Dusty Run," Maple said. "He's a hard-hitting horse but has his problems. When you're riding against him you notice that sometimes he's trying to get in. Today he tried to get out and he leaned all over me. To be honest, Jatski has run better races than this one. I thought all along that he was a good horse, but I really couldn't figure out how good because he hadn't faced 3-year-olds like these until today. He didn't go by Run Dusty the way I thought he would."
Jatski's Travers was the 20th race of the year for the huge colt, who stands 17.1 hands and weighs 1,150 pounds—dimensions similar to Forego's. Two days before the Travers, Cole watched Jatski being walked on the backstretch and said, "After this race he's going to be rested for at least a month. He's lost some weight and we need to take back on him. At the barn we call him George—the first exercise rider he had was named George—and he's become a very popular horse in the Midwest. I think he can handle the best that there is in the East. He's as honest as they come. We have no ideas right now for a big fall campaign."
In normal years the 3-year-old season concludes about now as the youngsters start stepping up into the handicaps or weight-for-age races. But that may not be the case this year. Seattle Slew, J. O. Tobin, Jatski and Run Dusty Run are drawing cards, and some sharp promoter is going to come up with a race exclusively for 3-year-olds for a gigantic purse. It could be in California, New York, New Jersey or Illinois. The track staging it seems assured of a memorable afternoon's racing.
The leader, Run Dusty Run, hangs tough, bearing out as Jatski bears down in the finishing drive.