In a season that seems to be nothing but futurities, two more of them were run off last week, four days and 3,000 miles apart. The settings were as distinctly different in tone as a New York subway stop is from a peaceful stretch of Pacific beach.
The race in New York (called simply The Futurity because it is the oldest of these tests for young horses) is run at Aqueduct, which actually is a stop on the subway line. The other futurity, at California's Del Mar track, is only 15 years old (compared to New York's 73) and is staged in a beautiful seaside setting about 20 miles north of San Diego.
If losers at Del Mar elect not to drown themselves in the nearby hostelries of La Jolla or San Diego they can do it with ease in the Pacific itself. An early-morning attempt, however, might be difficult, because the beach traffic at Del Mar is pretty heavy before noon. Scores of Thoroughbreds go down to the sea daily for some beneficial salt water therapy. Many of these animals really enjoy the surf; under the guidance of professional swimmers, they often charge boldly through the breakers and go off for a long swim in water way over their handsome heads.
Del Mar's Futurity was won by Slipped Disc. Aqueduct's Futurity was won by Never Bend. The latter proved he is the best 2-year-old in the East by beating Outing Class by a length and three quarters. His time for the six-and-a-half furlongs was a respectable 1:17 1/5. Slipped Disc, who at one time led his futurity field by four lengths in the six-furlong race, hung on bravely to win by half a length over Beekeeper.
Maybe the best thing about Slipped Disc is his name. He is out of an old Greentree Stud mare named Aching Back. His sire was the brilliant sprinter Decathlon. From the way Slipped Disc won his futurity (worth $56,115 to New Mexico Rancher W. E. Britt), it doesn't seem likely that he will be much of a factor at longer distances. In fact, of the 13 in the Del Mar field, Beekeeper, owned by Kentucky Derby Winner George Pope, not only looked like the best horse but he ran that way, too. He isn't badly named either. His sire is Hillary and, as students of mountaineering know, Sir Edmund Hillary busies himself with bees when he isn't leading a charge up Mount Everest.
Slipped Disc's victory—he has now won four out of eight starts and $84,915 on owner Britt's $18,500 investment—apparently has earned him a trip to New York. Trained by the owner's 39-year-old son Max, he may be supplemented to the Cowdin and the Champagne at Belmont Park, and he is already safely nominated for The Garden State. Although his trainer says the usual hopeful things about teaching his front-running colt to be rated off the pace, Britt made no attempt to disguise the real reason for coming to New York: "Because Rex Ellsworth and his good 2-year-old Candy Spots is coming home to California. With Candy Spots out of the way, we figure we've got a chance to beat any other 2-year-old."
The optimism and spirit are there, no doubt, but Slipped Disc has his fall work cut out. Never Bend's win at Aqueduct was not only expected but also fully deserved, though for a few wretched moments after the finish the stewards got their umpteenth chance to listen to 1962's racing theme song, "I claim foul." Donald Pierce, on Greentree's Outing Class, habitually a slow starter and fast finisher, claimed that Never Bend bothered him leaving the gate. There was a little close work there, all right, but, as winning owner Captain Harry F. Guggenheim noted while the stewards were looking at the film and the crowd of 49,000 yawned at this boring weekly occurrence, "Does anybody expect young 2-year-olds to break from the gate straight as a string?" The foul claim was not allowed, and rightly so.
The operation at Del Mar has, with this season, really become big league. Since Crooner Bing Crosby started the track 25 years ago, Del Mar has been a hit. (Crosby is out of it now, but they still play his record of the Del Mar theme song to open the daily card.) In the season just concluded, the pari-mutuel handle averaged more than $1 million for the first time. Over the years, too, Del Mar has been helping to bring along some of the best horses in the country. Among those who have either won or been in the futurity money are Your Host (sire of Kelso), Kentucky Derby Winner Tomy Lee and Preakness Winner Royal Orbit. Warfare, the champion 2-year-old in 1959, was third in his Del Mar Futurity, but later came East and won both the Champagne and Garden State.
Good show for colts
Today Del Mar continues to do good in several other fields. It is run partly for the benefit of Boys, Inc., the nonprofit corporation founded a few years back by Texans Clint Murchison and the late Sid Richardson, and has contributed nearly a million dollars in eight years toward combating juvenile delinquency. Under the guidance of Board Chairman William R. (Fritz) Hawn, President Don Smith and Assistant Eddie Read, the track has successfully defended itself against strong competition from Caliente (30 miles to the south) by offering increasingly attractive purses and by catering to 2-year-olds. A third of all races at Del Mar are for the youngsters, as are a third of the 15 stakes. Del Mar is also the scene of a highly successful yearling sale each August, and in the off season the track is used as a winter training center for harness horses.
A few days there on the edge of the Pacific can make a man realize and remember—as he does at Saratoga or Keeneland—what wonderful fun racing can really be.