Even Saratoga's oldtimers could remember nothing like it. More than four inches of rain poured down on their beautiful track last week in the 36 hours that preceded Saturday's Hopeful Stakes for 2-year-olds, turning the grounds and the track itself into a nearly unmanageable quagmire. "If the rain had lasted another half hour," said one track official, "we might have had to cancel the card." The rains let up in midmorning and the sun came peeking through for short periods during most of the rest of the day, but even so the Hopeful was greatly affected by the weather.
Ten colts were entered originally, but Saturday morning Calumet's Reggie Cornell withdrew his entry of Tarboosh and Plum Bold, and Lucien Laurin scratched the probable favorite, Riva Ridge. This left only seven to compete for the $77,355 first money and after a nifty stretch duel the 6-to-1 shot Rest Your Case was winner by a length over Governor Max, who had come from Chicago for the party after winning a division of the Arlington-Washington Futurity two weeks earlier. Although Rest Your Case turned in an impressive 1:17[2/5] for the 6½-furlong distance despite the icky going, his victory prompted remarks like "Run it again tomorrow on a fast track and you'd get a different result" and "He probably looked better than he actually is."
MacKenzie Miller, who trains this son of Traffic Judge and the Count of Honor mare Dame Fritchie for Charles Engelhard's widow, was himself unenthusiastic. Before the race he said he thought this season's crop of 2-year-olds was as poor as any he could remember. And even while accepting the trophy from Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, he said, "He's a little thing, isn't he? He couldn't weigh more than 700 pounds. I guess it just goes to prove that stakes winners still can come in all shapes and sizes."
This does not mean that the Hopeful horses can be dismissed from the 2-year-old picture. Governor Max ran gamely but had to run over the heavier inside of the track in the stretch. Loquacious Don had a terrible start. Buck The System will do much better next time if his rider doesn't exhaust him again with a first quarter in 22 seconds. And Rest Your Case, now a winner of three of his seven races, along with $114,152, will get a chance to show how good he really is in the Futurity at Belmont in mid-September.
The Hopeful has a proud history (last week was its 67th running) and a victory in it looks good on any stallion's record. Such Hopeful winners as Whirl-away, Middleground, Native Dancer, Nashua, Needles and Buckpasser all demonstrated their true potential in this race. But it is also true that the appeal of the Hopeful has declined over the years. "In the old days," says New York Racing Secretary Tommy Trotter, "people racing in the East would point their 2-year-olds for the Hopeful and the Futurity before wrapping it up for the season. Now there is a trend to use these two races as stepping stones for the richer Champagne and Garden State, rather than as an end in themselves."
What this means is that the best 2-year-old races are still ahead, and most of the news in them will be made by those who did not appear in the Hopeful. The two best juveniles in the country may be Riva Ridge and the filly Numbered Account, who captured the Spinaway Stakes on the Wednesday before the Hopeful. She is a daughter of Buckpasser—one of his first crop—and according to Bull Hancock, who raised her at his Claiborne Farm for Owner Ogden Phipps, "She was a standout from the start. Now she even looks like Buckpasser and certainly runs like him, doing just what she has to when it counts the most."
While Numbered Account appears to be the class of a fine group of fillies that includes Rondeau, Dance Partner, Debby Deb and Brenda Beauty, racing in the colt division has been inconclusive. Yet there are a few whose names are likely to be familiar next May 6, when the faithful gather again at Churchill Downs. In addition to Riva Ridge, Tarboosh and Plum Bold, there is a pair trained by Elliott Burch for Paul Mellon named Straight To Paris and Idle Answer. Chauffeur, Chevron Flight, Freetex, Hold Your Peace, Cohasset Tribe, Royal Owl and Busted are all stakes winners already, and among those who are likely to win a stake in the near future are Windjammer (a half-brother to Joe Namath), George Spelvin and Quill Gordon.
Speculating on how well young horses will turn out is always fun but often premature. One owner-breeder at Saratoga said last week, "In evaluating a crop, an owner or a trainer is not always the most unprejudiced party. If you think you have a good 2-year-old, and for some reason or other he keeps getting beaten, you're inclined to say, 'Gee, this must be a hell of a crop."
And it may be wise to reflect that at this time last year the Hopeful winner was Proudest Roman—who was injured and retired shortly thereafter. Hoist The Flag's brief tale of triumph and tragedy had not yet begun. And 3,000 miles from Saratoga a colt that had been sold for $1,200 had just arrived at California's Del Mar racetrack after a trip from Venezuela. He did nothing to distinguish himself at Del Mar and was returned to Caracas all but unwanted. His name, of course, was Canonero II.