Jun 29, 2012
AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-HOOFBEATS FROM THE PAST
By: HOWARD ROWE
The following is an article from the Hoofbeats From The Past book by Howard Rowe. If you would like to order it call 1-800-645-2240.
SARATOGA: ROLL CALL OF CHAMPIONS
Back in the 1920s, Zev raced in the colors of Rancocas Stable and was trained by Sam Hildreth. He lost his first four races before shipping to Saratoga and then made up for lost time. Hildreth sent him postward seven times in four weeks and he won five races, including a pair of stakes.
The greatest horses of the century raced at Saratoga with few exceptions. While Zev flourished in upstate New York once he had an opportunity to compete at the track on Union Avenue, quite a few champions never showed up at Saratoga, primarily those that were promine t during the early 1940s. World War II saw Saratoga’s regular dates transferred to downstate tracks, thereby precluding the appearance of outstanding runners.
Horses such as Alsab, Armed and Assault with a combined total of more than 140 lifetime starts never had the opportunity to race at the Spa. The superior distaffer Busher never got to Saratoga, while Gallorette was six years old before she made her initial start there, winning the Wilson Mile in 1948. Many turf experts at the time agreed that Busher and Gallorette rated as two of the best racemares of all time.
A couple of Triple Crown heroes never tackled the upstate course, horses like Citation and Count Fleet. Another legendary runner who bypassed the Spa was Spectacular Bid, and one more, Swaps.
Early in the century we find two thoroughbreds owned and bred by James R. Keene and both trained by James Rowe, Sr. Sysonby raced just three times at Saratoga, winning all three stakes races. Several seasons later Colin won all 15 of his lifetime starts. As a juvenile he won two Saratoga stakes, the Saratoga Special and the Great Union. The Special was particularly appealing because it offered a winner-take-all purse, and the top youngsters of that era always gave it a whirl.
At one time the magnet that attracted the champion horses to Saratoga was not the Travers, but the Saratoga Special. Almost from its inception in 1901, the two-year-old test at six furlongs was arranged for the best and brightest juveniles.
The roster of winning youngsters reads like an honor roll of American thoroughbreds: Sysonby, Colin, Sir Martin, Roamer, Regret, Novelty, Sun Briar, Morvich, Blue Larkspur, Whichone, Jamestown, Top Flight, El Chico, Bimelech, Whirlaway, Pavot, Battlefield, and Native Dancer all raced for modest purses for decades. Eventually the winner-take-all stipulation was discontinued and the race changed conditions in 1959.
Keene and Rowe are the only pair to send out two Horses of the Century; all the others were bred, owned and trained by different people. Frank Whitely has the distinction of having trained three of the all-time greats, Ruffian, Damascus and Forego, but he shares honors for handling Forego with Sherrill Ward, who guided the horse during his first two seasons of competition.
Fred Hopkins trained Equipoise for several years, although the records list T.J. Healey who conditioned him later in his career. Under the tutelage of Hopkins, Equipoise started at Saratoga three times, winning the Wilson and the Whitney. During his career Equipoise suffered three disqualifications in three important stakes, including the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. Why Hopkins is not credited with training the “Chocolate Soldier” is a mystery, because other honors are nicely split between horsemen who conditioned champions at various times.
Now we come to Man O’War’s Saratoga dossier. He did win three stakes out of four, losing only the Sanford. His two-year-old performance at the Spa in 1919 was not quite as strong as Billy Kelly’s, the Canadian-0owned stablemate of Sir Barton, who polished off four stakes of five the previous season.
Strangely enough, a colt named Maedic established a record that eclipsed both of them and has never been beaten. Maedic won all five of the divisional stakes for two-year-olds in 1936, and these included the Flash, Hopeful, Great American and Sanford, as well as the Saratoga Sales.
Despite the fact that Saratoga opened for business back in 1864 and for many years hosted races for the highest-caliber thoroughbreds in the nation in traditionally prestigious races, no time records were established there for many years, neither world records nor American records.
By mid century the only name appearing in the record books was that of Roamer, a speed freak who ran a mile in 1:34.4 back in 1918. Although he raced several ticks slower than Equipoise at Arlington Park years later, the luster of his performance was dimmed by racing against the clock with no competition and by carrying a mere 110 pounds. He was seven years old at the time. By the year 1950, Roamer remained the only Saratoga-raced horse listed as an American record holder.
Years later turf racing finally placed Saratoga on the speed lists with Tentam and the fine filly Waya co-holders of the 1-1/8 mile record. Tom Swift replaced Red Reality and Malwak, joint holders of the 1-5/8 mile mark on grass previously.
Saratoga racing toward the end of the 19th century was doing so poorly that the Travers was not run for six years prior to World War I. Purses for the Travers grew from a skimpy $15,000 to Battlefield in 1951 to today’s million-dollar lure, ranking as the only Saratoga purse that rivals the top prizes in the nation.
For decades liars have insisted that they bet on Jim Dandy at 100-1 when that mudlark whipped both Gallant Fox and Whichone in the Travers of 1930. If one percent of these fabrications had occurred, Jim Dandy would have been a hot favorite. As it is, however, horseplayers considered the race a freak event that provided the biggest upset since Man O’War finished second in the Sandord.
In more recent years the Travers featured an all-star cast consisting of winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late P.G. Johnson would have dubbed them all “serious horses.” There was Gato del Sol, winner of the Kentucky classic and second in the Belmont, with a $500,000 bankroll earned the hard way. Aloma’s Ruler, hero of the Preakness, Withers and Jersey Derby, runner-up in the Subuirban and Haskell, also boated of a half million in the bank. Also included was Conquistador Cielo, conqueror of older rivals in the Metropolitan who went on to win the Belmont Stakes, Dwyer and Jim Dandy. He had just hung up a world record shortly before the Travers. He became the thoroughbred that brought the highest syndicated price ever, more than $37 million, and many in the crowd had come to see him and bet on him at Saratoga.
Alas, for the high hopes of punters, Conquistador Cielo was not around at the finish. Nor was Gato del Sol. Aloma’s Ruler was disappointment number three, as a Canadian took the honors, with a minimum of cheering from the assembled sportsmen. John DiMario, the widely unknown trainer, almost got shut out in the winner’s circle photo, and little time was spent with jockey Jeff Fell waiting for some goofball to ask, ‘When did you think you had the race won?”
Not since 1917 when Borrow, a nine-year-old gelding beat a field which contained three Kentucky Derby winners, had anything like this disaster occurred. Behind Borrow were such stars as Regret, Omar Khayyam, Old Rosebud, Roamer and Stromboli, probably the finest group that ever faced the starter in a Brooklyn Handicap.
Very little noise about the 1982 Travers emanated from the nation’s press, and racing generally has ignored the unique outcome ever since.
With the defeat of Gato del Sol, the Travers proved to be a stumbling block for most winners of the Triple Crown races. Only a few Derby winners in the 20th century were able to handle the “Summer Derby” at Saratoga successfully. Twenty Grand, Whirlaway and Shut Out come to mind as horses who beat milder competition than they met in the classics earlier.
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