It was supposed to be the race of the year. It was supposed to be the finest Travers Stakes ever run, and 93 good ones had been run before it. It was supposed to prove once and for all which was the best horse: Chateaugay, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, or Candy Spots, winner of the Preakness and five other $100,000 races this season, or Never Bend, last year's 2-year-old champion.
What last Saturday's Travers did, however, was something that it certainly was not supposed to do—it threw completely out of focus an already blurred picture. Crewman, George D. Widener's often faint-hearted 3-year-old, beat the glamour horses in the Travers field black-and-blue and, by the time dusk had settled over Saratoga's graceful elms, 29,335 people realized they had witnessed a race that was weird and unique.
All week before the Travers, the horsy Saratoga set talked incessantly about the forthcoming mile-and-a-quarter classic, and seldom was Crewman's name even mentioned. Through spring and summer Crewman had ducked the big races and the Big Three, settling for two victories in secondary stakes at Delaware Park, as well as some fair performances at Aqueduct and Monmouth Park.
Chateaugay, Candy Spots and Never Bend had trained to perfection for this Travers, and all the attention was on them. But Crewman was not standing around just gulping oats. He has always been partial to the deep Saratoga track and was working well. Bert Mulholland, his trainer, changed the equipment on his colt, yanking off blinkers and fitting Crewman with a figure-eight strap to keep the colt's mouth closed. On race day Mulholland pulled Jockey Eric Guerin aside in the walking ring and said, "Get him away and take a good long hold. Your horse and Never Bend will be on the lead, but don't worry about it. You are on a sharp horse, and you're going to win it."
At the start Never Bend went to the front, and Guerin sent Crewman right after him, just as Mulholland had told him to do. Going past the stands the first time Candy Spots was on the rail and dead last, but at the clubhouse turn Jockey Bill Shoemaker slipped Candy Spots through on the rail and into a comfortable third-place position. But Shoemaker sensed trouble. Going into the first turn, he clipped Chateaugay's heels slightly. "Spots was running awfully rank," said Shoemaker. "You know, not relaxed at all. Even before we got to the quarter pole, I knew we were dead. If a horse isn't relaxed you know he's not going to run."
Going into the final turn it was still Never Bend on the lead with Crewman just off him. Candy Spots made a futile run that fizzled. Chateaugay, with his familiar drive, came from way back and it looked for a moment as though the real race was about to begin. But Never Bend stopped and, suddenly, Crewman opened up three lengths to free himself from further competition. Another long shot, Hot Dust, closed bravely to be second, with Chateaugay third and Candy Spots fourth. Never Bend was last.
An hour after the race Mesh Tenney, Candy Spots' trainer, announced that the colt had bled from the nostrils while cooling out. Bleeding usually indicates a horse is suffering from some form of exhaustion, and every horseman knows a bleeding horse is hardly one that can be expected to turn in his best effort. Candy Spots was a disappointment, but he did attract a huge crowd that broke the record set 10 years ago, when Native Dancer won the Travers.
Nobody is likely to claim that the Travers settled the 3-year-old championship. This fall these colts will have to move up into the weight-for-age races, and then we may finally learn who is best. Candy Spots deserves another chance, and so does Chateaugay. Outing Class, who skipped last week's race, will help decide the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Woodward. Aside from taking on one another in these races, the 3-year-olds will have the dubious honor of playing hide-and-go-seek with Kelso and perhaps even Carry Back.
At 7:45 on the morning of the Travers, Jack Price, the owner of Carry Back, walked onto the track at Randall Park, near Cleveland, Ohio. "I remember," he said, "walking the course at Longchamp in Paris last October before Carry Back ran in the Arc de Triomphe. There were all those hills, and the grass was almost over my head. I was huffing and puffing, and I wondered then if I wasn't some kind of screwball for taking him to France. I wonder if I'm not some kind of a screwball right now. Here I am trying to bring Carry Back back to the races in my own home town on my birthday. He's been away from the races for nine months, at stud. A lot of people would like to see the Carry Back story end. Maybe he can't do what I think he can do. I don't want to disgrace him, but I think he's ready to run."
Nine hours later Carry Back did run and, although he finished second in the $33,950 Buckeye Handicap to Gushing Wind, he proved that he is still one of the best Thoroughbreds of the past 20 years. He was alert and gritty and, in the next two months, may run himself right back to form. This week he goes in the $100,000 Washington Park Handicap in Chicago.
For his Cleveland appearance Jack Price dressed in blue and had his shoes shined. He bounded from grandstand to clubhouse, from hot dog stand to bar. People came over and shook his hand, and a few horseplayers even tried to borrow money from him. Jack was not the Price that you see at Aqueduct or Monmouth or Churchill Downs. He was truly touched by the affection that greeted him. He paused several times to wipe his eyes. "Today I get a feeling that every one of these people wants to see Carry Back win," he said.
When the gate opened in the Buckeye, Gushing Wind jumped to the front, but there was no speed to challenge him. Carry Back was the only chaser, and he runs best when there are three or four horses in front of him. Gushing Wind shot off to a six-length lead. Carry Back cut it to three at the top of the stretch, but then he hung. Obviously, nine months is too long for any horse to be away and then come back at the top of his form. Carry Back's race was good and true, however, and he has not lost his competitive fire. Jack Price may be back over his head in Paris grass come next October.