A few days before the ninth running of The Garden State last week, some of the contending owners and their trainers were hustled across the Jersey flats, led up to a posh private dining room at Manhattan's "21" club, fed on Cornish game hen and invited to talk horse. One was a tanned, dark-haired, 31-year-old named Gordon Potter, who handles horses for the Lexington, Ky. Crimson King Farm of Peter William Salmen, senior and junior.
When Potter took the floor to talk about the chances of his horse, Crimson Satan, it was immediately apparent that his rivals in The Garden State were not causing him any sleepless nights. Directing his particular attention to fellow guests from the rival camp of cofavorite Donut King, Potter gave everyone who was willing to listen a nearly perfect advance call on the big race. "I feel confident," he said, in a manner not very reminiscent of another trainer named Jimmy Jones. "We'll be right with Donut King when the running starts, and then I think that Crimson Satan will win by a couple of lengths."
When somebody was foolish enough to ask, "Why did you pick Shoemaker to ride?" Potter fielded like Nellie Fox: "I never heard anyone fault him too much, did you?" Shoemaker, who did not get in on the Cornish game hen, had already given his advice to Potter: "Just feed this horse good and take care of him until Saturday."
The Salmens and Potter did take good care of Crimson Satan until Saturday. They fed him his usual 14 quarts a day, and when it came time to go to work on Saturday afternoon, this big chestnut son of Spy Song did exactly what he was supposed to. He beat Donut King by 2½ lengths for a near-record purse of $180,819.
No one was much surprised to see the familiar speedster, Green Ticket, go right to the front in this 1[1/16]-mile race. Nor was anyone surprised to see him slow up turning for home and finish fifth. Crimson Satan was dead last going into the first turn, which reminded many in the crowd of 37,000 of the running style of Carry Back, winner in this same race a year ago. "He didn't break particularly well," said Shoemaker later, "and for the first 70 yards or so he was throwing his head all over the place. But going up the backstretch, he settled down and started to run. At the 3/8 pole we went inside a few horses, then circled the leaders turning for home—and that was the race."
Last chance coming up
Unlike many of the Spy Songs, who have a habit of stopping short of a mile, Crimson Satan seems to thrive on distance and has not displayed any temperament or, for that matter, any preference for a particular kind of track. "He could even," says silent Willie Shoemaker, "be a pretty good horse."
So, of course, could some of The Garden State's defeated runners—like Donut King, Obey, who finished third, and even Decidedly, a better colt than his eighth-place finish indicates. The last big chance this fall for any of the promising 2-year-olds still on their feet will be the November 18 Pimlico Futurity. Crimson Satan will be there to see if he can eliminate any other possible claims to the 2-year-old championship of a most confusing year.
It was unfortunate indeed that this running of The Garden State lacked the general excitement that has accompanied some of its previous renewals, when virtually all of the best 2-year-olds competed. How easy it is now to recall the midsummer days and the early fall afternoons when everybody in racing was singing the praises of a really fine crop of youngsters. There was Ridan in Chicago, Rattle Dancer and Weldy in California; in the East there were George Widener's team of Jaipur and Endymion, Sir Gaylord, Cyane, Battle Joined and even such occasional stakes winners as Sunrise County, Stevward, Clover Leaf and I'm For More. None of these were present in The Garden State.
Why? Well, we will always hear the complaint that 2-year-olds are too often overraced. Some owners and trainers, however, prefer to blame the condition of the tracks, and let it go at that. Another point was voiced recently in The Chronicle of the Horse: "Far more important has been the long established practice of breeders to put to stud any animal which will transmit speed, no matter what its shortcomings in other respects. Thus, there have crept into the Thoroughbred breed various types of inherited unsoundness—crooked legs, round ankles, bad knees, shelly feet, curby hocks, soft and brittle bones."
This is not to say that any of the above-mentioned horses are now on the sidelines specifically because they are the offspring of sires which themselves turned out to be unsound. But the fact is that when we produce nearly 12,000 foals a year, the majority of them sired by horses which have been put into stud more for sentimental reasons than anything else, we are bound to increase the population of inferior racers.
Many of The Garden State's missing cast of characters are not yet—thank goodness—out of the picture for next year's 3-year-old classics. Ridan has had splint trouble and will be sent to Hialeah. There he will meet, in addition to Crimson Satan, Sir Gaylord, who is just plain tired; Jaipur, out of The Garden State because of a slight fever; and Endymion. Cyane and Battle Joined both suffered slight fractures. The owners of Weldy and Rattle Dancer simply decided to aim for the Santa Anita meeting rather than to ship east this fall.
All of this bunch will become 3 on January 1. At Santa Anita and Hialeah they'll tune up for the 1962 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. It is a sorry fact that before they get to these classic races some will be overraced, some will break down and some will fade away when the distances stretch out. Some owners, too, won't particularly give a damn as long as they can take home a check, somewhere along the line, for $100,000 or more. Some of these colts, however, will finish in the Derby money.