With this week's Epsom Derby and the Belmont Stakes, racing's accent on two world-apart fronts is momentarily focused on the enviable qualities that enable Thoroughbreds to utilize their speed and stamina to win at a mile and a half and thereby earn the deserving accolade of "the classic colt."
There is special significance, of course, to the 90th running of the Belmont, for should favored Tim Tam win it he not only secures himself one of those Yankeelike grips on season's honors (before the season is half over), but in doing so he would become only the ninth horse in American racing history to win the Triple Crown—that triumvirate of races composed of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, which have all been on the calendar for over 80 years and all of which have been run concurrently for the last 76 of them.
As the chart on the opposite page suggests, by the very limited number of Triple Crown winners this feat—whether in vintage 3-year-old seasons or mediocre ones—usually goes into the books as the major turf event of the whole year.
If Tim Tam fails to win his Belmont it will not only come as a great surprise to the entire Calumet Farm entourage which bred, trained and raced him through a brilliant spring campaign, but also it would likely throw the shock of his life into the trainer of any horse "lucky" enough to sneak up on the champion on one of his rare off days. For Tim Tam, no matter whether Milo Valenzuela or Bill Hartack is aboard on Belmont Day, has shown such consistent and honest willingness to give his best (surely this must be one of the most genuine racing dispositions that even the oldtimers can recall) that indeed it appears that Tim Tam is wholly incapable of turning in what the race-trackers call a "dull effort."
So it appears that if victory is to be denied Calumet it will have to be by virtue of a super effort on the part of one of those with the temerity to challenge him. I would think it unlikely that there would be more than six or seven willing to make the effort. Lincoln Road (Tim Tam's finish-line shadow in his last three $100,000 races) has wisely moved on to Chicago, and if the names of any of the other possible starters—such as Victory Morn, Chance It Tony, Candace, Romopolis, Princepado, Grey Monarch, Saferris, Start Courting or Flamingo—should throw a scare into the Calumet team, then it's high time that all of us give up the futile chore of picking winners.
Racing in this country being so utterly different from the sport abroad, comparisons are treacherous. In fact, the only thing in common between the Epsom Derby and the Belmont—the two greatest races in their respective countries—is that they are raced over a mile and a half. This accepted classic distance in Europe is so rare in this country (where most trainers believe the Kentucky Derby distance of a mile and a quarter is an adequate enough testing ground for stamina) that today it seems quite incongruous to many that the Belmont nearly always decides the 3-year-old championship. Furthermore, with the exception of a few rugged colts who elect to challenge older horses in the weight-for-age Jockey Club Gold Cup at two miles in the fall, very few U.S. 3-year-olds, in fact, ever even start in any race as long as a mile and a half.
The situation is understandable. U.S. horsemen, instead of adopting European theories of breeding largely for stamina and racing over distances regulated to test that stamina, have—for the most part—been so speed conscious that racing secretaries from coast to coast have a difficult (if not impossible) job trying to fill the scattered route races that they schedule. The result is that there are not more than a dozen stake races annually on the dirt at a mile and a half or over in the entire country—and almost an equally poor opportunity for the owner of a horse below stakes class. For example, a survey of four major U.S. tracks last year reveals the startling fact that out of a combined total of 1,849 races only 24 of them were at a mile and a half or beyond—and 15 of those were at Belmont Park, long noted, along with its June classic, for an increasingly steady emphasis on distance racing.
At the same time the survey points up the great emphasis on sprint and middle-distance races: of those 1,849 races some 729 were at six furlongs; 159 at seven furlongs; 37 at a mile and 416 at a mile and a 16th. Some tracks, of course, lay particular stress on specific distances: the mile is the predominant distance at Arlington and Washington parks; of 327 races on the dirt at the 1958 Hialeah meeting 113 were at six furlongs and 112 were at the more testing distance of a mile and an eighth; at Belmont, despite a generous share of sprints, the 1957 season saw 73 races carded at a mile and an eighth or over; at Hollywood Park, which had only one race over a mile and a quarter in 1957, they run eight 2-year-old races every five-day week, which accounts for the heavy trend toward sprints.
For comparison with this speed-conscious American program let's see what's going on abroad. On a typical Sunday at Longchamp in mid-May the seven-race card showed only one 3-year-old seven-furlong race, while the other six races ranged from a mile and a 16th (one of them) on up to 2½ miles. The day's average distance was a mile and a half. Under the French system of developing young stock with deliberate slowness in order to ready it for the demanding races ahead, few 2-year-olds in France had yet faced the starter. It is not uncommon to see French classic winners—Pharis, for example—kept off the track until they are 3 years old.
During the following week at England's Wingfield Park the six-race card included only one sprint for older horses (along with a couple of five-furlong dashes for juveniles) but required 3-year-old fillies to carry 126 pounds in a mile-and-a-half prep of the traditional approaching Oaks.
If the implications are clear that American racing de-emphasizes distance races—while the vast majority of our tracks and horsemen face a highly competitive market in the field of rich sprint and middle-distance purses—it is equally clear that many of our leading breeders naturally look to Europe to provide them with stallions who hopefully may produce winners of just such classics as the Belmont and Gold Cup.
On the assumption that some American breeders are content to import European stock in order to produce winners of their own classic races, this is an arrangement which has fortuitously worked happily both ways. The English have found it highly profitable to sell top-class middle-distance horses to U.S. buyers convinced that a "meshing" of such blood to our mares with a good "bottom line" will produce get capable of going at least a mile and a quarter and maybe farther.
This collaboration with European breeders is, in fact, indispensable to U.S. breeders, who, if left to their own resources, would pare the stamina of American bloodstock down to zero. By mating horses which can only run six furlongs you do not tend to get horses which will also go six furlongs, but sometimes offspring which will not go beyond 5½ furlongs, say; inbreeding accentuates existing trends. Thus, American breeding currently needs constant outcrossing with European stamina to prevent racing in this country from being ultimately reduced to an absurd series of ever-dwindling dashes.
Although this search for the authoritative answer to successful breeding will continue forever, the moment at hand still belongs to ultrasuccessful Calumet, whose plain but costly philosophy about such matters is often expressed by Jimmy Jones: "Breed the best to the best—and hope for the best." However, in the case of Tim Tam's parentage (Tom Fool and Two Lea, whose blood is nonetheless fused with successful imported strains) Calumet had to look no further this time than the rich Bluegrass pastures of Kentucky to find the right formula for breeding another champion. And in Tim Tam they could easily have one of the very best ever.
THE ROYAL HORSES (AND OWNERS) WHO WORE IT
1919 SIR BARTON
Money made this horse and money killed him. He entered the Kentucky Derby a maiden, without a race at 3, carrying Ross's $250,000 bet and Jockey Johnny Loftus. He won by five lengths and then took the Belmont and Preakness with ease. As a 4-year-old he was matched with Man o' War at Kenilworth Park and was beaten by seven lengths. He died in 1937 on a dreary U.S. remount ranch in Douglas, Wyo. Ross gambled away $10 million and was buried at sea off Montego Bay in 1951, almost forgotten.
1930 GALLANT FOX
Gallant Fox was the color of mahogany, with a thin blaze of white on his face. He raced under the white-and-red-spotted silks of Woodward's Belair Stud. He was sired by the French stallion, Sir Gallahad III, trained by the then 55-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and ridden by Earl Sande, who came out of retirement to do so. As a 3-year-old he raced only in stakes, won nine of 10, always as the favorite. It took a 100-to-l shot (Jim Dandy) to beat him. He sired mighty Omaha in his very first crop.
This colt made Woodward the first man to own the winners of two Triple Crowns, and had Johnstown been able to win the 1939 Preakness, he would have had three. For 20 years he was Chairman of the Jockey Club. His son, William Jr., continued the Belair colors until 1956 and won two-thirds of a Triple Crown with Nashua. Omaha is still alive at the age of 25, standing 55 miles from the Nebraska city for which he was named. Plans are afoot to bury him in the Ak-Sar-Ben infield upon death. Willie Saunders rode him.
1937 WAR ADMIRAL
Samuel D. Riddle
Perhaps no man could be expected to remain unchanged after owning two such horses as Man o' War and War Admiral. But Sam Riddle did. He mingled and raced and rode with the highest society wherever he went but kept his special affections for his horses. War Admiral was Man o' War's most famous son. He ran eight times at 3, won all eight. He had to defeat 19 horses in his Derby and only six dared try him in the Belmont. Riddle died at age 89 at Glen Riddle, Pa. War Admiral has sired the winners of over $6 million.
Warren Wright first started a horse in the Derby in 1935, and his rider was a boy of some promise named Eddie Arcaro. Six years later these two connected with Whirlaway, a horse that captured the public heart with his long, bushy tail and tremendous stretch runs. It was Whirlaway who won the first of two Wright-Arcaro Triple Crowns. "Mr. Longtail" ran 60 races, and was only four times out of the money. He was 5 to 2 in the Derby, 6 to 5 in the Preakness and 1 to 4 in the Belmont. Ben Jones trained him.
1943 COUNT FLEET
Mrs. John D. Hertz
In 1928 Mrs. Hertz entered her first Kentucky Derby with Reigh Count, and he won by three lengths. Fifteen years later she entered again with a son of Reigh Count named Count Fleet. He, too, won the Derby by three lengths, then the Preakness by eight and finally the Belmont by 25. He won all six of his races as a 3-year-old and his odds were never higher than 2 to 5. Johnny Longden rode him and has called him the best horse he has ever ridden. The colt suffered an injury in the Belmont and was retired for good.
Robert J. Kleberg Jr.
Bred and owned by the King Ranch in Texas, Assault was known as the little chestnut with the deformed hoof. As a weanling a thorn injured him, and it took all the patience of his trainer, canny Max Hirsch, to get him to the races. He was an 8-to-1 long shot in the Kentucky Derby and won by eight lengths; took the Preakness by a scant neck and then won the Belmont by three lengths. Kleberg's brown silks with the rolling W are still active in American racing. Warren Mehrtens rode him in the Big 3.
It takes a lot of horse to be the greatest horse Calumet Farm ever had. But Citation was, and justly so. He won 19 of 20 races in 1948 and was held at 1 to 20 in one, 1 to 10 in five and odds-on in the rest of them. He won his Derby in slop, his Preakness in mud and his Belmont over a fast track. In 1951, a year after Wright's death, he became racing's first millionaire. Eddie Arcaro and Wright collaborated again, and father and son, Ben and Jimmy Jones, were the trainers for Citation's Triple Crown.