Racing at Saratoga this summer has been as good as ever despite the fact that two of the nation's leading horses and top attractions as well—Bold Ruler and Gallant Man-were only on the grounds to be seen and not raced.
Bold Ruler made a farewell parade under silks two weeks ago before being shipped to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to start his new career in stud, while Gallant Man used the month to freshen up for what could be a climactic pair of meetings with Kerr Stable's doggedly determined Round Table in Atlantic City's United Nations Handicap (Sept. 13) and Belmont's Woodward Stakes (Sept. 27).
But the big moment at Saratoga came last Saturday when the sapphires of New York's juveniles came out, as they almost always do, for Saratoga's ancient and storied Hopeful. In the small field of five maturing colts we got a look at two standouts, Christopher T. Chenery's First Landing and E. Leigh Cotton's First Minister. Their six-and-a-half-furlong meeting was a contest for little more than half a mile before First Landing—by Turn-to out of Hildene—drew off to his seventh straight victory with almost unbelievable superiority over colts of no uncommon ability.
His smashing success (attained in 1:17[3/4]) had many a Saratoga old-timer comparing him to some fine youngsters that previous Hopefuls have produced: Native Dancer, Middleground, Needles and Nashua, to name just a few.
Not only did Chenery, who raced Hill Prince just a few years back, take the top 2-year-old colt race, but he also won The Spinaway, the meeting's top 2-year-old filly race as well with Rich Tradition. Only seven owners have ever won both these historic races for the top male and female juveniles, and neither race is exactly a puppy on the racing calendar. This was the 67th Spinaway; the 54th Hopeful.
While the 2-year-old season does not end with the Hopeful and The Spinaway, the feeling here is that if there is anything capable of beating First Landing it had better show itself soon. But it must always be remembered that there are three hard and lucrative months of racing ahead, and other young colts, the likes of Restless Wind, Tomy Lee, Watch Your Step, Landing, Pilot, Intentionally, Atoll, Mr. Vale, Dunce, Demobilize, Finnegan, Sword Lancer and Crafty Skipper, might be worth keeping an eye on.
The thing about Saratoga that seems to separate it from other cities whose principal trade comes from racing is that while it openly pursues the tourist dollar it isn't opposed to giving the spender a fair return on investment made.
This year, those who judge racing solely on the spin of the turnstiles and the jingle of the mutuel machines had a wonderful time mocking Saratoga. But they didn't take into consideration layoffs and other pangs of recession at the General Electric plant and American Locomotive in nearby Schenectady made it hard for many to stretch the amusement dollar the 30-odd miles to the race track. Attendance was down about 9% and mutuel handle off 8½%. But this year at most U.S. tracks the figures have been declining.
Saratoga, even though its old hotels like the Grand Union and The United States have been replaced with such modern conveniences as supermarkets and parking lots, still is able to maintain much of its Old World charm. Granted, the nightclubs and gambling halls of the past are now only nostalgic memories for summer visitors. But the elm-hooded streets still summon people back year after year to the easygoing company of the landlady on Caroline Street, the unhurried conversations of the bartenders at the Colonial Tavern or the sprawling brickwork of the Gideon Putnam Hotel.
It is at Saratoga where the common denominator is a love or fascination for racing and where this traditionally respected bond brings people happily together. All kinds of people, Anita Bonanno (above) for instance, a 19-year-old secretary from Binghamton, N.Y., who saw her first horse race in 1954. Miss Bonanno manages to go racing downstate for about eight weekends a year, but she reserves her special affections for Saratoga. "I bet three or four races a day," says Anita, "either $2 or $5. I'm about $50 ahead at Saratoga. I do my own handicapping and like to go for a horse about 4 to 1. I study up on the past performances all I can, and the first thing I look for is class. I don't know enough about breeding to recognize class, but what I mean is that I try to find the allowance horse who is dropping down in class to the claiming races. Like most women, I'll play a hunch bet on a horse just because I think he looks pretty. If it comes to deciding between an
unknown owner and trainer and one of the famous stables, I'd probably go for the unknown because I always like an underdog.