Saratoga's Hopeful Stakes was so named because the owners and the breeders of the 2-year-olds who make it to the starting gate in this venerable race expect and trust them to be better-than-routine sprinters. Run at six and a half furlongs, it annually marks the occasion when eastern juveniles are asked to go farther than the standard three-quarter-mile sprint distance. Horses that respond with speed and courage are reasonable bets to become champions. No fewer than 12 winners of the Hopeful, Saratoga's closing-day fixture, have gone on to take the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes the following year, and if you look over the list of Hopeful victors during the last two decades you will find the names of Middleground, Native Dancer, Nashua, Needles, Hail to Reason, Jaipur and Bold Lad.
Last week another impressive name was put on the list: Ogden Phipps's big, leggy colt Buckpasser, who looked so good winning the 61st Hopeful that if Caliente opened a 1966 Kentucky Derby book this week he would have to be the favorite. No doubt this view will be challenged in Chicago, where a few weeks ago the horsemen at Arlington Park saw three sensational winning sprints by a Ribot colt of John Galbreath, Graustark. Speculation about any young horse is risky, but some horsemen were so taken with Graustark that they were calling him a once-in-a-lifetime colt. On August 6 Graustark won the six-furlong Arch Ward Stakes, easily beating the best 2-year-old out of California, C. V. Whitney's Port Wine, by six lengths in 1:09 1/5. Then Graustark was fired for a splint. He may miss the rest of the season. With Graustark out, Port Wine should have come on strong in Arlington's Futurity Trial, three days before the Hopeful and also at six and a half furlongs. Instead, Port Wine beat only two horses in a 13-horse field and was trounced by more than 16 lengths by the winner, Our Michael. Who is Our Michael? He is a son of Bolero who won four eastern stakes before going to Arlington. In one of the eastern stakes that he did not win, the Sapling at Monmouth Park, he was beaten by Buckpasser.
Not having seen Graustark, I am not qualified to join those who say he is another Man o' War. I hope that he recovers in time to run in the November 20 Garden State. As for Our Michael, he is staying in Chicago, and he will race against Buckpasser once more on September 11 in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. That one is at seven furlongs, and some suspect that Our Michael is not going to relish the added distance. Sons of Bolero, a brilliant sprinter, are not noted for their staying power.
However, in Buckpasser, Phipps and Trainer Bill Winfrey may have something very, very special. He has won seven consecutive races (coming from way back in one to dead-heat Hospitality). These were sprints, and Buckpasser is bred to be a stayer. He is by Tom Fool, who could run as far as horses have to, and his dam is Busanda, by the Triple Crown winner War Admiral.
"He seems to want to run at horses," says Winfrey. "This is the sort of good sign that Native Dancer showed me. This colt just acts like a natural stayer. In his dead heat he walked out of the gate and then made up a dozen lengths, but in almost all of his races he showed he had enough speed to get position early and keep running after he made the lead."
Buckpasser showed some adolescent greenness at the Hopeful starting gate. "When the gate opened," said Jockey Braulio Baeza, "the ground broke out from under him, and he went right to his knees." But he recovered amazingly fast. While Buckpasser was getting himself straightened out after his shaky start, Indulto and Impressive (the latter owned by Phipps) cut out the early pace. Baeza moved with Buckpasser at the half-mile pole, and the race was all but over. Buckpasser circled the two leaders and drew away from the eighth pole home to beat his stablemate by two and a half lengths, with Indulto third in the seven-horse field. The time of 1:16 was excellent on a track that was called fast but was not as fast as it can be. Granted, there are some fine 2-year-olds in Chicago, but I say that Buckpasser is the horse to beat—not only for the 2-year-old championship but also for the 1966 Kentucky Derby.