Hope springs eternal in the breasts of owners and trainers of expensive 2-year-old thoroughbreds, and considering the costs of production and operation such feelings are not unnatural. In order to materialize the dreams and sighs of horsemen and the bettors who support them, the closing-day feature at Saratoga since 1903 has been called The Hopeful.
This 6½-furlong race has been won in the past by such future classic horses as Man o' War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Nashua and Buckpasser, among others. That it is a prognostication of future glory is evidenced by the fact that 12 Hopeful winners have gone on 10 months later to win the Belmont at a mile and a half.
The brightest star in the 68th running of The Hopeful last Saturday was Meadow Stable's Secretariat, from the same company that owns and operates Riva Ridge. All week there were confident predictions among horsemen at their favorite spa that this strong, tall chestnut, a son of Bold Ruler out of Somethingroyal and a half brother to the famous Sir Gaylord, would run away with the race. Some went so far as to say that Secretariat already showed signs of being even greater than his stablemate, Riva Ridge. The only race he has lost was his first when he had a good excuse. He got banged into at the gate, suffered interference and was hard put to find racing room. His trainer, Lucien Laurin, says that Secretariat has a good memory—after that shock to his sensibilities, the horse decided that caution was part of victory and well-being. Ever since, he has started last or near to last, suffered no one to interfere with him and has gone on to win decisively.
In Saturday's Hopeful, Secretariat started next to last, took himself back to last and when asked to move by Jockey Ron Turcotte, went to the lead at the half-mile pole. He took over in the stretch by four lengths and finished five lengths ahead of the long shot Flight to Glory. The other horses might just as well have stayed home. Secretariat's time was 1:16⅕ three-fifths of a second off The Hopeful record set eight years ago by Bold Lad. To those among the 23,094 admiring spectators who bet on him he paid a miserly $2.60 for win, $2.40 for place and $2.10 for show. To Mrs. John Tweedy, who manages Meadow Stable, he paid $51,930.
Despite Secretariat's decisive performance, the 2-year-old situation this year remains cloudy with chance of brilliance. The races for 2-year-olds this year have been carded later than in most past seasons. In New York the 2-year-old competitions were delayed from the usual schedule of March or April until June. Kenny Noe Jr., New York's new racing secretary and handicapper, says he has written the 2-year-old races later because many of the babies have scarcely abandoned their pacifier and diapers as early as March or April. With the usual harsh spring weather in New York, they often cough, just like the human inhabitants of Pollution Center.
Quite a few 2-year-olds have already demonstrated that they perhaps can make Secretariat take dictation. There is Shecky Greene, named after a comedian, master of the double entendre, who won the Arlington-Washington Futurity in Chicago on Aug. 12 by nine lengths laughing. There is still Linda's Chief, beaten for the first time in his life by Secretariat in the Sanford at Saratoga by three lengths. He was held out of The Hopeful because A. A. Scotti, his trainer, did not like his sluggish workout and maybe did not want to discourage his good charge by subjecting him to another beating. Stop the Music, a Greentree colt by Hail to Reason out of a Tom Fool mare, finished third to Secretariat in The Hopeful and may yet read the score. Other outstanding colts are Little Big Chief, Petty Thievery and Assagai Jr. Laurin may have additional competition for Secretarial in a horse called Angle Light, whom some regard as a sleeper, like his sire, Quadrangle.
On the Wednesday before The Hopeful, MacKenzie Miller, one of the most successful trainers in the business, displayed at Saratoga the talent of a first-time starter owned by the late Charles Engelhard's Cragwood Stables. This was a horse called Puntilla, who won by 14 lengths. He is a finely built colt by the successful and fashionable sire Never Bend out of Moment of Truth II. He was not made eligible for The Hopeful, otherwise, Secretariat might have met his match. The race Puntilla won was for maiden 2-year-olds with a purse of. a mere $8,000. He will be raced lightly this summer and fall in preparation for greater things.
The female of the species may do a Kipling and prove more deadly than the males. On Friday, the day before The Hopeful, La Prevoyante won the Spinaway by three lengths with no trouble at all. She is the most beautiful filly horsemen have seen all season, and she looks and runs like her celebrated sire, Buckpasser. La Prevoyante made it seven wins in seven starts last Friday. She had won the Schuylerville at this Saratoga meet on Aug. 2 by 5½ lengths. Unlike Secretariat, she likes to go quickly to the front and stay there. In the paddock under the trees where the horses are paraded and saddled, the biggest crowd was gathered to look at the magnificent La Prevoyante, and there was as much awe and admiration for her as there was next day for Secretariat from an equally large crowd. Other winning fillies are Sparkalark and Natural Sound, and in California there is one called Bold Liz, who is highly regarded there. Some Easterners have a tendency to pooh-pooh California horses because the fast times there make it seem as if they run on orange juice, but enough of the Westerners have won in big races in the East to belie regional suspicion.
Nobody is yet claiming that this year can be called a banner one for 2-year-olds; it is simply too early to tell. After some races at Belmont Park and Aqueduct during the next few months, and in Florida and California during the winter and early spring, one may be able to distinguish the superiors among the colts and fillies.
With the delayed racing schedules for youngsters, it may be that this year fewer horses will break down at an early age than have in some past years, and the result may be greater stamina at the expense of early speed. Two-year-old thoroughbreds are high-strung, sensitive, nervous types and have to be handled delicately. In France and other parts of Europe 2-year-olds are raced lightly and sometimes not at all, so there are far fewer bowed tendons, broken bones and other disasters than in this country, where the number of races each day and the longer seasons sometimes prove calamitous to superb animals.
One can assume that Laurin would not in any case allow such disasters to befall Hopeful winner Secretariat, and if Mrs. Tweedy is disturbed by the broil over her Riva Ridge it should cheer her to consider that in Secretariat she may have an even better horse.