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Until the running of the Saratoga Special last week, most U.S. horsemen were agreed that the best 2-year-old in the country was a big and still-growing brown colt called Hail to Reason. This long strider, who likes to wheel around his fields and smother them in the run to the wire, is owned by a very pretty young lady named Patrice Jacobs.
He is also trained by Patrice's father, that bright-faced redhead Hirsch Jacobs, who at 55 has trained more winners than anyone in all racing history. This spring he hit the 3,000 mark.
Hirsch Jacobs says that Hail to Reason is the best colt he has ever had. But in the Saratoga Special, after winning five stakes and $170,040 in 16 starts, Hail to Reason was upset by Bronzerullah and finished a dismal sixth. Later, Jacobs said his beaten favorite had developed shin soreness in both front legs and that his status as a starter in this Saturday's traditional Saratoga Hopeful was questionable.
If he does not get to the starting gate, there will be many horsemen to say that the race is irrelevant when it comes to selecting the season's juvenile champion. And if he does, there will be just as many to protest that the American weakness for excessive racing of 2-year-olds is the main reason so many potential top runners break down.
However, virtually all trainers agree on one point: there is no relationship between the number of times a horse starts and his chances of incurring a case of sore shins or bucking his shins outright. Shin ailments can occur at any time—or never. They are not symptomatic of an approaching breakdown. (The horseman's term "bucked shins" indicates inflammation of the under layers of skin covering the cannon bone of the foreleg. Humans also experience shin trouble after much running or jumping on a hard surface.)
Yet it is undeniable that the 2-year-old animal, at least a year away from maturity and strength, is most susceptible to leg bone injuries of all sorts. If 70% of Thoroughbreds buck their shins at some point in their racing careers, at least half of them do it in their first season—that 2-year-old year when most owners and trainers want to find out quickly how good a runner they've got.
Serious injury is possible
Most trainers faced with shin trouble prefer to wait six to eight weeks before racing again. The great danger in running a horse with sore or bucked shins is that in favoring the leg that hurts he may put extra pressure on a good leg. This invites far more serious and lasting injury, such as a bowed tendon. When that happens, a good horse may be lost for a long time or forever.
Horses that race in England and France have less shin trouble than ours do because they are raced lightly when young. Also, a grass course affords more spring and protective cushioning for the runner's feet. American racing can never turn exclusively to turf courses. But, at the same time, it seems a pity that year after year more and more of our young stock falls away after one season. Colts never get the chance for which they were originally bred: to be tested for speed and stamina over classic distances. Instead, they are put to raking in money in short races at the tender age of 2.
If Hail to Reason is not sore for this Saturday's Hopeful, he should win. But the competition from Bronzerullah and the stretch-running Chinchilla will be severe. Later this fall the invaders from Chicago will arrive—Pappa's All, Crozier, Beau Prince and Songman. The protracted 2-year-old racing season, which then ought to be finished, will, in effect, just be starting.