Saratoga has beencalled many things since its first meeting in 1863, just five weeks after theBattle of Gettysburg. Even today one hears such phrases as "the graveyardof favorites," "the dowager queen of the American turf," "theproving ground of champions," "the most beautiful race track inAmerica." It is all of these, and each year it takes on added significancefor people who genuinely love Thoroughbred racing.
Last week, thepleasant and ancient course prepared to go about its business for the 93rdtime. Men played hoses across the beautiful green infield to give the grass abrighter glow, and the fountain in back of the tote board sent graceful spraysof water high into the afternoon air. Swans glided peacefully on the infieldlake, and florists stuffed geraniums into the boxes on the front of the redgrandstand. A boy with a rag dusted off the Currier and Ives prints in the mainclubhouse bar, and a tree surgeon walked through the elmed shade of the hugepaddock and announced that no major surgery would be necessary.
This season thetrack will probably have the finest meeting in its long and proud history.Whether it will be a financial success (and it seldom is) will depend on justhow deeply the fingernails of the current recession have dug into the economyof the cities surrounding Saratoga. Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Glens Falls andSaratoga itself have had a bad year financially, and these cities supply themajority of patrons at the track.
For sport's sake,however, things could not look brighter, though only a few days ago there wassome question of whether there would be enough horses on the grounds to holdany kind of a meeting.
Most of the horsesscheduled to race at Saratoga have been stabled at Aqueduct and Belmont, whereefforts of the Teamsters Union to organize grooms and other backstretch workershave led to picketing and a strike of some stable employees. The problem washow to get the horses out of Aqueduct and Belmont and up to Saratoga withoutrunning the gantlet of possible violence on the picket lines and without usingTeamster horse-van drivers who refused to cross the lines. It was solved bylogistics that would do credit to wartime troop movements.
The horses wereloaded on trains at a rail siding in Elmont, Long Island. They went through theSunnyside yards in to New York's Pennsylvania Station, then out of the stationto Stamford, Conn. From there they went back in to New York's Grand CentralStation, then north to Albany, with a short stop at Harmon to change engines,and on to Saratoga. There, private vans took the horses to the track. Thenormal six-hour trip took 14 hours. Other private vans were routed up the NewYork Thruway, escorted by state police; at the Saratoga city line local policecontinued the escort to the track. By last weekend there were more than enoughhorses at Saratoga to assure a successful meeting. A few pickets appeared atthe track but Saratogans, whose year-long economy is geared to the one month ofracing (nearly $3 million in hotel revenue alone), were breathing easily.
Beginning withthis Saturday's $50,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies, Saratoga will have thebest horses in every division appearing in at least one race. The Alabama, overa distance of a mile and a quarter, will bring together, for the first time,Brookmeade Stable's Bowl of Flowers and Darby Dan Farm's Primonetta. While mostpeople feel that Bowl of Flowers is far superior to any of the current group offillies and perhaps even better than the best of the 3-year-old colts, a fewdoubters believe that Primonetta will give her a good test. Eddie Arcaro willride Bowl of Flowers and Willie Shoemaker will ride Primonetta, and who couldask for anything more? The 3-year-old colts get their chance in the $75,000Travers on August 12. Right now it looks like Carry Back against the field, andif he can even imitate his form of early spring he should be very much thebest. Ambiopoise is the Travers dark horse; he is extremely partial to theSaratoga racing surface.
Year after yearSaratoga provides 2-year-olds with a chance to show their real worth in fivemajor stakes. The Hopeful, at six and a half furlongs on closing day, August26, is one of the most eagerly awaited races of any season. The list of winnersof the Hopeful reads like a chart of American racing itself—Regret, Man o' War,Morvich, Whirlaway, Devil Diver, Relic, Middle-ground, Battlefield, NativeDancer, Nashua, Needles, First Landing, Hail to Reason. The indications arethat this year's crop of 2-year-olds is one of the best of recent years, thoughthe majority of good eastern youngsters have not yet been to the races. In thenext few weeks Saratoga will demonstrate which colt will be the favorite forthe rich fall races and perhaps next year's Kentucky Derby as well.
This season, forthe first time, Saratoga will have turf racing on its program. A new one-milegrass course has been completed and it gives the track three surfaces on whichto conduct racing—the main track, the turf course and the steeplechase (andhurdle) course. Two major grass races will be run over the new course, andRacing Secretary Tommy Trotter plans to fit a turf race into the regularprogram as often as possible. Harbor View Farm's fine grass runner, Wolfram,can go either for the Bernard Baruch or the Sanford, both worth $25,000.
The turf course isone of several improvements which the New York Racing Association has made thisyear. Each improvement is a good one and has been tastefully accomplished sothat the rustic charm of the old track is not defaced in any way. A newgrandstand, seating 700, has been added; an additional elevator has beeninstalled in the clubhouse, and an escalator will service both grandstand andclubhouse.
One of the mostimportant facets of any Saratoga season is its annual yearling sale, conductedjust a few blocks from the main entrance to the track itself. This season thesale runs from August 7 to 11, and on August 11, it appears, all records for aone-night sale may fall. On that final evening bidders will compete for some ofthe best young stock ever placed at auction—three colts and two fillies byNashua, a colt by Sailor, a colt and filly from the first crop of Tim Tarn, acolt by Gallant Man, one by Summer Tan, a colt and a filly by Native Dancer, aTurn-To filly, a colt and a filly by Royal Coinage.