The traditional windup to the summer race meeting at Saratoga is a double-focus look at some of the country's finest 2-year-olds, male and female. The colts compete in the 6½-furlong Hopeful, an aptly named mini-classic whose winners are instant candidates for the following season's Triple Crown races for 3-year-olds. Although an occasional outsider sneaks onto the list of Hopeful winners (a year ago Gusty O'Shay was one of them), it is a contest of genuine class that more often than not is captured by a far-better-than-average colt.
The fillies get their chance the day before the Hopeful in the six-furlong Spinaway. To Saratoga traditionalists, many, of them owner-breeders searching for the best broodmare prospects, the Spinaway is a very good place to look. Yet, despite its long roster of distinguished victors, the Spinaway seldom attracts as much public attention as the Hopeful. After marvelous Moccasin won it in 1965, the future millionaire Buck-passer obscured her day in the sun with his triumph in the Hopeful. When La Prevoyante took the Spinaway in 1972, who should come along the next afternoon but Secretariat.
But last week, as Saratoga's meeting came to a close with alltime records for betting and attendance, things were different. There appeared to be no superstars among the colts, and for the first time in the Hopeful's 70 runnings, there were so many entries that the event had to be split. When The Bagel Prince and Foolish Pleasure—each, to be sure, an even-money favorite—won their respective divisions, the reaction among most of the 25,068 people on hand was a polite yawn, followed by, "Hey, what about that filly yesterday!"
And that filly yesterday was almost unbelievable. Whereas 17 colts were entered in the Hopeful (15 finally ran), Stuart Janney Jr.'s undefeated Ruffian scared off all but three opponents in the 83rd Spinaway, and except to pick up minor monetary awards for finishing second, third and fourth, those three might as well have stayed home. The best of them, a double stakes winner at Saratoga named Laughing Bridge, trailed Ruffian at the finish by nearly 13 lengths. Scottish Melody was another 1½ lengths back, and Some Swinger was last, 19 lengths behind the winner. Distance, however, is often relative in racing. What distinguished Ruffian was the astonishing facility and the effortless grace with which the perfectly dispositioned daughter of Reviewer (he's a son of Bold Ruler) and the Native Dancer mare Shenanigans demonstrated her superiority.
September 1, 1974
Taking the lead at the start under Jockey Vince Bracciale Jr., Ruffian loped along in beautiful reaching strides that gave no immediate impression of speed. The trio behind her hustled in vain to keep up, or even to maintain any sort of position from which to make a stretch challenge. Ruffian, seemingly coasting, raced through the first quarter in 22[1/5] and the half mile in 44⅘ opening a seven-length lead. She kept striding gracefully away from her pursuers, increasing her lead with almost ridiculous ease. When she crossed the finish in 1:08⅗ she had not only shattered the stakes record for a Spinaway run at Saratoga (Numbered Account's old mark of 1:09[4/5] would have left her six lengths behind Ruffian), but the 1:09[1/5] clocking turned in by Sopranist in 1945 when the Spinaway was run on the old straightaway Widener Chute at Belmont Park. Ruffian's spectacular show was the fastest ever over six furlongs for all the great and near-great 2-year-olds who have run at Saratoga during its 111 years. And, despite the 120 pounds she was carrying, she came close to the track record of 1:08 flat set by the 3-year-old Spanish Riddle in 1972, when he carried only 111 pounds.
Ruffian's history-making run was one of those rare events that racegoers treasure forever, like the stirring 1962 Travers between Jaipur and Ridan and Secretariat's 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Little wonder, then, that the next day's twin-barreled Hopeful (which is half a furlong longer than the Spinaway) was anticlimactic. In the first division The Bagel Prince took the lead from Knightly Sport midway down the stretch and drew away to win by three lengths in 1:16[4/5]. Half an hour later Foolish Pleasure did not catch the front-running long shot Greek Answer until the 16th pole, but then he too pulled away to win by just under four lengths. His time was a nifty 1:16, just two-fifths of a second off Bold Lad's stakes record.
Like Ruffian, Foolish Pleasure is undefeated in five races. He was acquired as a yearling at last year's Saratoga sales for $20,000 by the father-son trainer team of Moody and LeRoy Jolley for their close friend and client, John L. Greer. As Mrs. Greer happily points out, "Five starts, five tracks, five wins; how can you beat that!" Moody Jolley, who trained Ridan for a group of owners that included the Greers and who shared their disappointment when that favored colt ran third in the 1962 Kentucky Derby, says, "I always thought Ridan was a pretty terrific racehorse, but Foolish Pleasure may be just about as good." He won at Hialeah in April, at Delaware Park in May and at Aqueduct in July. Two weeks before the Hopeful the Jolleys had him at Monmouth Park where he captured the Sapling by just under two lengths. Second in that race was The Bagel Prince, who appears for the moment to belong to a not terribly exclusive fraternity of colts who take turns defeating one another. This friendly group includes Knightly Sport, High Steel, Greek Answer, Our Talisman, Big Decision and the California-based DiMaggio (by Bold Hitter, of course), who a month ago nosed out The Bagel Prince in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship.
Until his visits to Monmouth and Saratoga, The Bagel Prince had raced exclusively in California, where he won three of six starts. On July 1 his owner, Sam Biliouris, a Sherman Oaks, Calif. record distributor, sold a half interest in him for $100,000 to Edward Shamie, who is in the perfume business in Beverly Hills, and Shamie's nephew, Joe Cayre, a New York record distributor. Shamie says, "This is the first horse I've ever owned any part of. We've had two seconds and this Hopeful win, and we've already got back half of $94,994. I don't think we've done badly." Not badly at all, especially since The Bagel Prince is the first California-bred to win a Hopeful. "We're going to Arlington Park for the Futurity on Labor Day," says Trainer John Pappalardo, "but we may be back in New York to meet up with these colts again in the fall."
There is little likelihood of Ruffian meeting up with the colts this fall, or ever, despite the temptation to challenge the males. Maybe the best thing that has happened to Ruffian in her brief career is that she is in the hands of such complete and patient horsemen as Owner Janney and Trainer Frank Whiteley. The latter's work with such horses as Chieftain, Tom Rolfe and Damascus has stamped him as one of the very best in the business. And Janney, a retired Baltimore attorney whose Locust Hill Farm is situated near the horse-conscious community of Glyndon, Md., understands horses and what to do with them. He has long been a Master of Fox Hounds in Maryland, and his exploits in timber racing are legend. Despite what the English, Irish and French say, many Americans and all Marylanders consider the Maryland Hunt Cup the most rugged race in the world. In 1942 Janney took his own jumper, Winton, and rode him to victory in this demanding race. Then, after four years in service, he returned from World War II to ride him to victories again in 1946 and 1947. Janney gives credit to the horse. "Think of what Winton might have done if there had been no war," he marvels.
Before the Spinaway, Janney was more apprehensive than Whiteley. "I'm a little frightened of Laughing Bridge," he said. "She must have improved since Ruffian beat her nine lengths in the Astoria at Aqueduct. And she's had not one but two winning races over this track. I looked at the rerun of her easy win in the Adirondack and it makes me nervous."
No nervousness showed on Whiteley as he hosed Ruffian's legs early one morning last week. "Everyone says she's so terrific and that she's the best horse I've ever been around," he noted, "but I haven't said it yet, have I? This filly has never raced, or even worked, on an off track. But she is big, 16 hands one inch, a little over 1,000 pounds, and she's as strong as a 3-year-old colt. After she won her first start I kidded some of the boys by telling them, 'She's really a 3-year-old.' Then she kept on winning, and I don't kid them anymore, because somebody's liable to believe it."
Janney and Whiteley will probably run Ruffian in only two more races this season, the Frizette and the Selima, before returning her to Camden, S.C. to freshen up for the 1975 campaign. Her few detractors say that her astonishing speed may make her more vulnerable to injury, the theory being that the greater the speed the harder a horse's feet hit the ground. This could be true to an extent, especially with horses who have to exert themselves to reach and maintain top speed, but in Ruffian's case, as track veterinarian Manuel Gilman points out, "Her gait is so effortless and graceful that it is not overexertion. This filly has fine legs. I think she'll be able to do anything, run on any kind of track and run any distance, too."
"If Ruffian had run in the Hopeful," said a trainer, "she could have won either division by 20 lengths. And if they had made the two divisions the first and last races on the card, she probably could have won both ends."
The highest accolade for this dark filly, who has the grace and sheer power of a superhorse, came from someone who should know. As he polished off a nightcap many hours after the Spinaway had been run, Trainer Lucien Laurin, with the forthrightness for which he has always been known, suddenly exclaimed, "As God is my judgment, this filly may be better than Secretariat!"