It does not necessarily follow that the richest races are always the best. And yet at Aqueduct last Saturday the Champagne, which with a gross value of $230,300 was the wealthiest horse race ever staged in New York, turned out to be an historic duel between 1959's best 2-year-olds.
Historic is truly the appropriate term to apply to this 88th running of the Champagne, for when Warfare, under a perfect ride by Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela, barreled down a length in front of favored Tompion he set a track record for the mile (1:35 1/5). He also proved conclusively that if any other colt in America is to lay claim to the 1959 juvenile championship he can do it only by decisively whipping this gritty little California invader in The Garden State on October 31.
Warfare's triumph, worth $138,195 to his owner and 10% of that to Jockey Valenzuela, came as no great surprise to Easterners who have finally become convinced that California form, once the subject of ridicule in New York, is form to be reckoned with. Already this fall, since Aqueduct opened its newly constructed strip, eastern prestige has been maintained almost solely by the 3-year-old champion Sword Dancer. In the last month Hillsdale, Round Table, Warfare and Tompion, all of whom call California their home base, have demonstrated that what horses do at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park must now be taken in earnest rather than in jest.
The mile by Warfare was so fast that you have to go back 17 years in New York history to beat it, and when you do you find out that in all the history of U.S. racing only one 2-year-old ever covered the distance at a quicker lick. That was in 1942 and his name was Count Fleet, who went on the following season to win the Triple Crown. Count Fleet's time in the Champagne, then run at Belmont and in a race in which he carried only 116 pounds compared to the 122 carried last week by Warfare, was 1:34 4/5. As far as I can discover Warfare's time of 1:35 1/5 has been equaled only once before by a 2-year-old—in 1953 at Golden Gate Fields, by a colt named Determine. And who was Determine? He was Warfare's sire, winner of the 1954 Kentucky Derby and one of the most underrated horses of his time.
But now to the Champagne. There were 10 starters and, for some reason, the crowd of 47,384 insisted that Tompion, who won the Hopeful but who was fourth behind Warfare in the Cowdin, should be favored. This curious optimism might have been based on an anticipated improvement in Tompion's second start at Aqueduct or on the fact that his jockey, Willie Shoemaker, had openly suggested that blinkers might be the answer to Tompion's occasionally indifferent way of running. Warfare was second choice, but his connections, the Bellehurst Stable, owned by Clifton Jones, a Buena Park, Calif. housing developer and trained by Hack Ross, couldn't have cared less. Trainer Ross, a former fullback and triple letterman at Southern Methodist, corraled Milo Valenzuela before the race and said in his slow Texas drawl, "Lay third or fourth if you can until the stretch. Then go get 'em!"
Shoemaker, having drawn the inside post on Tompion, wasn't over-plied with instructions. Being on an habitual come-from-behind horse, Shoe was admittedly in a difficult spot. The choice was one of either breaking quickly to get position or taking back for a run on the outside and at the same time chancing trouble behind a wall of front runners. Shoe's decision to make a quick break and run with the pace will undoubtedly be the subject of considerable controversy, but as things developed it was probably the right move. Tompion went winging off, running freely behind Four Lane and Bally Ache, and with the pace they set—:22 3/5 for the firstquarter and :45 1/5 for the half—if Shoe had waited he'd still be waiting. He ranged up on the inside to contest the pace, with Warfare right up close; the other six horses made up a separate pack of their own, none of them ever to pose a serious threat to the first four.
Tompion was on the lead when they had gone six furlongs in 1:09 4/5 (itself a track mark), but at the head of the stretch Valenzuela, obeying instructions to the letter, opened up the throttle on Warfare, and gradually the little gray took command. Inside the 16th pole he drew away and won by a length. Valenzuela said later that he felt he had plenty of horse under him at the finish and that Warfare ran like a colt who wanted to go on. Meaning that he won't mind the added sixteenth of a mile he'll have to go if Owner Cliff Jones elects to make him a supplementary nomination for The Garden State. As for Tompion, he's going down Jersey way, too, and when the pair of them tackle such non-Champagne starters as Venetian Way, T. V. Lark, Sky Clipper, and Azure's Orphan we will find out whether Warfare's 2-year-old title is pro tem or permanent.
If anyone is looking ahead to the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel on November 11, the only momentous news of the week is that the Russians are coming back for another crack at purses slightly larger than they are accustomed to in Moscow. Last year, you'll remember, this $100,000 invitational scramble attracted a couple of 3-year-olds named Garnir and Zaryad. The invasion was not profitable. Zaryad, after several false starts, was finally left at the barrier and wound up last; Garnir was sixth in a field of 10. Now, it seems Garnir is returning and bringing with him a fellow 4-year-old named Flang.
The rest of the field, thus far, is: Round Table and Bald Eagle (U.S.); Lea-B (Mexico); Nagami and Primera (England); Midnight Sun and Mi Carina (France); Vogel (Australia); and Up and Coming (New Zealand). Na zdarovya!