It is well to recognize a true champion at the close of the year. But toward the end of most sport seasons this custom tends to develop into a mania for selecting various athletes to fill a multitude of niches with confusing and grandiose titles. In the widespread field of Thoroughbred racing this obsession can occasionally look pretty foolish because, in seeking out one champion to carry the title of Horse of the Year, it often becomes second nature to lose some over-all perspective.
It is true that differences of opinion make racing the great sport that it is. It is equally true that when the opinions of most of us are long forgotten the 1957 racing records will always be available for further close scrutiny. And the 1957 racing season certainly deserves close scrutiny. The week of the Kentucky Derby last May these pages hopefully published a headline which read: A Year of Greatness. Under it were photographs of five 3-year-olds: Calumet's Iron Liege and Gen. Duke, Wheatley Stable's Bold Ruler, Ralph Lowe's Gallant Man and Travis Kerr's Round Table. Now, eight months later, it becomes a pleasure to present different illustrations of Bold Ruler, Gallant Man and Round Table and to name the distinguished trio as Horses of the Year—on the grounds, pure and simple, that all three contributed so much to the quality of the season that it becomes foolish indeed to pick one as the best and leave the other two in the unfamiliar role of also-rans.
This has been, undeniably, a great 3-year-old year in which the three colts being honored played the leading parts. That most of the pollsters picked Bold Ruler as the best is largely due to his overwhelming victory over Gallant Man and Round Table in the recent Trenton Handicap. It is unfortunate but true that late-season triumphs usually leave the more lasting impression. Thus Bold Ruler's Trenton win is remembered more clearly than, for example, The Belmont Stakes in which Gallant Man soundly trounced Bold Ruler in American record time. Similarly, when Dedicate, the hard-luck champion of the handicap division, whipped both Gallant Man and Bold Ruler in the Woodward it did much to erase the memory of this same Dedicate being beaten twice by Traffic Judge in the Metropolitan and Suburban handicaps.
There is every possibility that Bold Ruler may develop into a great horse next year. He has indicated it already. In speaking of him recently Eddie Arcaro said, "One of the things that makes a horse great is his will-to-run. I can think of few horses I've either seen or ridden that have more will-to-run than Bold Ruler. Furthermore, he may be the best weight-carrier we've had around in a long time. Most horses, when you put the weight on them, will slow down right away and you can notice the burden telling on them as they leave the gate. But Bold Ruler carries 136 pounds like it was 120 and always leaves the gate like a big cat."
Gallant Man, by contrast, has showed tendencies, particularly in his later races, to move only as fast as is necessary to nail his opposition. Round Table likes to run closer to the pace and will make it himself if he has to, strangling his contenders as they come to him and winning off by as much as he can.
All three colts have much on the credit side. There is probably not a horse alive who can match Bold Ruler at a mile at equal weights. At three-quarters of a mile he would get a terrific tussle (and possibly a beating) from Decathlon. At a mile and a quarter he is close to the other two and should improve at 4. Gallant Man is a natural distance runner and had not Bold Ruler finished out the year with four sensational victories it would be inconceivable that a colt who had won both The Belmont, over its classic distance of a mile and a half, and the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (as Gallant Man did) would fail to be named an almost unanimous choice for Horse of the Year. So shocked, in fact, was Gallant Man's trainer, Johnny Nerud, when he heard that Bold Ruler had been named champion in one poll, that he publicly threatened never again to attempt training a horse to run at classic distances. He has every justification for his threat. Round Table deserves his share of the crown for one of the outstanding seasons of all time. He traveled far and wide, won 14 of 21 starts including one string of 11 straight, defeated older horses three times and—even if it seems likely that most of his opposition was inferior to that faced by Gallant Man and Bold Ruler—he earned more money ($583,708) than any other horse in 1957.
When the three champions met in the Trenton it was obvious that Bold Ruler was at the very peak of his form and that the other two had noticeably tailed off. But from this corner, nonetheless, comes the conviction that over-all winning performance (such as demonstrated by Round Table) and superior performance in the traditional classics (such as demonstrated by Gallant Man) deserve equal recognition with a speed demon like Bold Ruler who can wow fans, handicappers and opposition in an age which seems slowly but surely heading to even further disregard of the distance race as a true indicator of valuable horseflesh.
In 1957 there were many races which ultimately had little bearing on championships but which still reflect honor on the victorious. There is no way of knowing, for example, what sort of a runaway of titles Calumet Farm might have made had not Bardstown (the Widener winner) and Gen. Duke (the Florida Derby winner) met with injuries. Both distinguished themselves and will likely do so again. The same could apply to Iron Liege, the Derby winner, and likewise to Promised Land who finished the year as the most improved of all 3-year-olds with four straight stakes victories including one over Swoon's Son. Among the other older horses who deserve full marks for effort and performance are Traffic Judge, Corn Husker and Kingmaker along with Bardstown. The 3-year-old fillies were led by Bayou, Romanita, Pink Velvet and Outer Space, while Pucker Up, followed by Princess Turia, Bornastar and Dotted Line dominated the older fillies and mares. As far as turf racing went I'm inclined to give my vote to Manassas, who specialized on this sort of going and in the process won five in a row. But a pat on the flank should also go to Mahan, winner of the International, and Round Table, who won all three of his turf starts. In the field of steeple-chasing it was no contest, as Mrs. Ogden Phipps's Neji proved—by carrying 173 pounds and smothering his field in the Temple Gwathmey—that he may be one of the best jumpers ever developed in this country.
Indecision about the 2-year-olds
If 1957 was a year of greatness in some divisions it was hardly so in the 2-year-old crop. Of all the country's juveniles only Mrs. Charles Ulrick Bay's filly Idun (a $63,000 purchase as a yearling) really stands out. In fact she won all eight of her starts. She undoubtedly could have beaten most of the better colts, but because she never met them it seems slightly implausible to name her the best of all the 2-year-olds. That honor must go to Mrs. Elizabeth Graham's Jewel's Reward, who, in 12 races, won five, placed twice and was third once. Jewel's Reward, by the way, also picked up some $349,642, which makes him the richest 2-year-old in the history of racing—although not necessarily the best. In some quarters there was a strong trend toward Claiborne Farm's Nadir, but I feel this reveals a tendency to pick not so much for achievement in 1957 as for what is expected of Nadir in 1958. It is conceivable that Nadir—or any of the other also-rans like Jester, Li'l Fella, Misty Flight, Terra Firma, Old Pueblo, Fulcrum, Nala or Alhambra—could develop into a better 3-year-old than Jewel's Reward next spring. But on 1957's record it has got to be Jewel's Reward. The 2-year-old selection, as a matter of fact, is pretty much a repeat of what happened last year. Bold Ruler was the best 2-year-old, but most polls awarded the title to Barbizon because he won one stake, the Garden State. Nadir won the same stake this season—but Jewel's Reward won five of them.
Trying to guess what's on tap for the season ahead can be a precarious pastime. Last year, for example, Gallant Man, winner of only $7,075, was completely unheralded when he put in his first Florida appearance. Next month, when some of the better 1957 2-year-olds start flexing their muscles at Hialeah, they'll find another crop of Gallant Mans and Round Tables waiting for them. They'll also find Calumet waiting patiently with four newcomers named Temple Hill, Tim Tam, Seventy-Six and something hot called Kentucky Pride.