As the name implies, the Hopeful is a race for maturing 2-year-olds with classic aspirations. For the first time the youngsters, many of them still very green, are asked to go 6½ furlongs in good company, and those who acquit themselves well on the last days of Saratoga's August meeting are usually conceded excellent chances in the juvenile championships later in the year; very often, they do well as 3-year-olds. Hopeful winners include Nashua, Needles, Hail to Reason, Jaipur, Bold Lad, Buckpasser and Bold Hour. Over the years 12 Hopeful winners have developed into classic competitors that have won the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
But it was not the 64th Hopeful alone that drew 24,828 fans to handsome Saratoga last week. The closing-day crowd of this record-breaking season (both attendance and wagering were up) was treated to one of the finest programs in years—a nine-race card with not a single claiming race in the bunch. An added bonus came in the form of a surprise: the solid beating administered in the Hopeful to Ogden Phipps's hitherto undefeated Reviewer, a 3-to-5 favorite, by Steven B. Wilson's 5-to-2 shot, Top Knight.
Wheatley-Phipps colts had won three of the last four runnings of the Hopeful before last Saturday, and Reviewer (a bay colt by Bold Ruler out of the Hasty Road mare Broadway) certainly seemed to have the same prospects as any of his three predecessors—Bold Lad, Buckpasser or What A Pleasure. His record was four for four, and that included easy victories in the Sapling at Monmouth Park and the Saratoga Special, both run at six furlongs. Second-choice Top Knight, a big Florida-bred chestnut son of Vertex and a Summer Tan mare named Ran-Tan, hadn't done too badly, himself. He had won two of five starts and had placed in two others. A poor start in the Sapling eliminated him from serious contention, and he finished sixth. In the Tremont, at 5½ furlongs, he was only a diminishing nose behind the winner, Greentree's Buck Run.
But if Top Knight came to Saratoga ready to run, it would be premature, nonetheless, to consider this colt even the pro-tem champion as a result of his first stakes victory. I, for one, will have to see him beat Reviewer again at the same distance before thinking of him in terms of a classic career. It is likely that the extra half furlong did not stop Reviewer so much as racing luck. Both the draw and the way the race was run gave advantages to Top Knight.
Reviewer got the inside post when C.V. Whitney's True North was scratched. Top Knight was on the outside in the 11-horse field. From there, Jockey Manuel Ycaza could maneuver to his liking at the break, and he settled quickly into fourth spot, out of trouble and in perfect position to track the leaders and make his move at the most propitious moment. On the inside, Jockey John Rotz, substituting on Reviewer for Braulio Baeza, who had gone to Chicago's Arlington Park to ride Dr. Fager, was in no position to call his own shots. Jocks on inside horses seldom are.
Reviewer likes to do his early running off the pace but well within striking distance. In the Hopeful, when he scrambled out of the gate last of the 11 colts, Rotz had to make a quick strategy decision—either to stay back and save ground on the inside and hope to get through or around later on, or to gun his colt and get up with the pace. "I wanted to lay back, but couldn't really," Rotz said later. "I felt I had to go a bit to maintain a position, and in doing so I used him more than we had intended." While Prevailing shot to a quick lead, Rotz saved the rail position and put Reviewer just half a length off the pace until they left the half-mile pole. Then he took over and quickly opened up a one-length lead. Ycaza could see all this from his handy outside position, and, even though he was carried slightly wide on the final turn by Bushido, he had clear sailing on the run home. He hit Top Knight at the [3/16]ths pole and then switched his whip to the left hand at the eighth pole, but by then he had measured his chief rival and there wasn't much of a contest. In the final 16th, Top Knight drew off to win by 2½ lengths in the very good time of 1:16. Reviewer had four lengths on long shot Bushido, who in turn was 1½ lengths in front of Hey Good Lookin.
"It's too soon to tell how good Top Knight really is," said a happy Ycaza afterward, "but his action and his disposition are just about perfect." As for Reviewer, Rotz said, only half glumly. "You never like to get beaten on an undefeated odds-on favorite in a big stakes race, but I believe that even in defeat this colt ran a big race—a very big race."
Top Knight and Reviewer, in all likelihood, will have another go at each other (again at 6½ furlongs) in the Futurity at Belmont Park on September 21st, and it should be a race worth seeing. It also should attract some classic hopefuls who, for one reason or another, did not get to Saratoga's race. Naturally, at least one of them belongs to the Phippses. He is King Emperor, the property of Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps's Wheatley Stable. Another Bold Ruler colt, he won the Sanford at Saratoga to run his unbeaten streak to three, then was shipped off to Arlington Park to put his reputation on the line in this week's Futurity Trial, a prep for the rich Arlington-Washington Futurity on September 7.
It would, of course, be nothing new for Wheatley-Phipps to come up with another 2-year-old champion. "Last year," says Ogden Phipps, "we had, in Vitriolic, the best of a bad lot. This year the lot may be good." This year, too, one has the impression that some of the better 2-year-olds have yet to be seen on their true form. It appears that some horsemen are being more cautious than usual with their young stock; not, for example, racing them either too early or too often. One explanation may be that the market indicates racing animals are worth more today than ever. When sales prices went up to record highs this year, the value of homebreds went up proportionately. And if horses are worth more, it stands to reason that owners are going to be more careful in handling them.
Next year at Saratoga, incidentally, all 2-year-old races leading up to the Hopeful will be at six furlongs instead of the customary 5½. Not only will this eliminate much of the unnecessary crowding that occurs right after the break midway up the backstretch, but it should provide horsemen with an earlier notion as to which members of their stock are serious candidates for the late-fall distance races and the year ahead.