There is no point in pretending that last week's $162,100 Hollywood Gold Cup was one of the great races of the year in addition to being one of the richest. However, when C. V. Whitney's Dotted Swiss coasted home four lengths ahead of Bagdad, aided by a weight concession of 15 pounds, an old controversy was revived. Why do some tracks weight horses for major handicaps weeks and even months before the event takes place?
Dotted Swiss didn't race at all until he turned 3. Then ankle trouble limited him to four starts, only one of which he won. Suddenly, at Hollywood Park this summer, he let everyone know that he felt like running. On June 28 he carried 124 pounds to a mile-and-a-quarter victory in 1:59 4/5.
But Dotted Swiss was already in luck. The Gold Cup weights came out on May 31, six weeks before the race, and because nobody then could possibly know just how much this colt was improving, he was let in at 107 pounds. Under the circumstances, last Saturday's race was a gift. Bagdad, a very useful member of the handicap division, had to lug 122 pounds.
From a management standpoint, advance weighting lets every owner know exactly where he stands, and the track can be reasonably sure that it will get full use out of leading horses on the grounds. A delay in weighting might also serve as a temptation for owners to move to other tracks which flavor their large-stakes invitations with guarantees of weight concessions.
Naturally, a trainer who wins a big stakes with his horse carrying a featherweight burden isn't going to knock the system. But most horsemen today favor both late-closing stakes and up-to-date weight announcements. Since form can change rapidly, five days or a week before the race seems a much fairer time to announce handicap weights than five weeks or, as in the case of the important Santa Anita Handicap, 13 weeks before the event.
Incidentally, none of this is to say that Dotted Swiss is just a flash in the pan. Although he's got a long way to go before measuring up to Bald Eagle, Sword Dancer and First Landing, when he goes after them later this year he may give them trouble at any weight.
While the present Hollywood Park season has been largely a meeting for lesser-known horses, Westerners are already excited about some of their 2-year-olds. They remember how Warfare whipped the eastern colts last fall and won the 2-year-old title, and the hunt already is on for another champion.
Midsummer sprints among speed horses, over a lightning track that never is anything but fast, are hardly conclusive, but the best at the moment is Rex Ellsworth's Olden Times. Ellsworth hasn't come up with a top colt since Swaps. He started buying well-bred mares a few years ago, and in one package deal he got 41 mares from the late Aga and Aly Khan. Then, at the 1957 Newmarket sales he picked up another 36, and one of those was a mare named Djenne who was then in foal to Relic.
The colt, foaled at Ellsworth's Chino, California ranch in 1958 was Olden Times, who has now started—and won—four times. This Saturday he'll try to make it 5 for 5 in the $100,000 juvenile championship at six furlongs.
Ellsworth is counting on the speed of Relic and the staying power of the dam's French family to give him a real runner. It's a combination, as any breeder well knows, that might work just fine.
One of the very few American horsemen these days who believe in racing 2-year-olds lightly, Ellsworth says, "The English and French system of three or four starts is best. However, you can't expect a colt to jump up and do great things for you when he's 3 or 4 years old if you haven't taught him something when he's 2. You just wouldn't keep a boy locked up in his house until he was 18 years old and then send him off to college with orders to become a football star."