Saratoga has been
called many things since its first meeting in 1863, just five weeks after the
Battle of Gettysburg. Even today one hears such phrases as "the graveyard
of favorites," "the dowager queen of the American turf," "the
proving ground of champions," "the most beautiful race track in
America." It is all of these, and each year it takes on added significance
for people who genuinely love Thoroughbred racing.
Last week, the
pleasant and ancient course prepared to go about its business for the 93rd
time. Men played hoses across the beautiful green infield to give the grass a
brighter glow, and the fountain in back of the tote board sent graceful sprays
of water high into the afternoon air. Swans glided peacefully on the infield
lake, and florists stuffed geraniums into the boxes on the front of the red
grandstand. A boy with a rag dusted off the Currier and Ives prints in the main
clubhouse bar, and a tree surgeon walked through the elmed shade of the huge
paddock and announced that no major surgery would be necessary.
This season the
track will probably have the finest meeting in its long and proud history.
Whether it will be a financial success (and it seldom is) will depend on just
how deeply the fingernails of the current recession have dug into the economy
of the cities surrounding Saratoga. Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Glens Falls and
Saratoga itself have had a bad year financially, and these cities supply the
majority of patrons at the track.
For sport's sake,
however, things could not look brighter, though only a few days ago there was
some question of whether there would be enough horses on the grounds to hold
any kind of a meeting.
Most of the horses
scheduled to race at Saratoga have been stabled at Aqueduct and Belmont, where
efforts of the Teamsters Union to organize grooms and other backstretch workers
have led to picketing and a strike of some stable employees. The problem was
how to get the horses out of Aqueduct and Belmont and up to Saratoga without
running the gantlet of possible violence on the picket lines and without using
Teamster horse-van drivers who refused to cross the lines. It was solved by
logistics that would do credit to wartime troop movements.
The horses were
loaded on trains at a rail siding in Elmont, Long Island. They went through the
Sunnyside yards in to New York's Pennsylvania Station, then out of the station
to Stamford, Conn. From there they went back in to New York's Grand Central
Station, then north to Albany, with a short stop at Harmon to change engines,
and on to Saratoga. There, private vans took the horses to the track. The
normal six-hour trip took 14 hours. Other private vans were routed up the New
York Thruway, escorted by state police; at the Saratoga city line local police
continued the escort to the track. By last weekend there were more than enough
horses at Saratoga to assure a successful meeting. A few pickets appeared at
the track but Saratogans, whose year-long economy is geared to the one month of
racing (nearly $3 million in hotel revenue alone), were breathing easily.
this Saturday's $50,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies, Saratoga will have the
best horses in every division appearing in at least one race. The Alabama, over
a distance of a mile and a quarter, will bring together, for the first time,
Brookmeade Stable's Bowl of Flowers and Darby Dan Farm's Primonetta. While most
people feel that Bowl of Flowers is far superior to any of the current group of
fillies and perhaps even better than the best of the 3-year-old colts, a few
doubters believe that Primonetta will give her a good test. Eddie Arcaro will
ride Bowl of Flowers and Willie Shoemaker will ride Primonetta, and who could
ask for anything more? The 3-year-old colts get their chance in the $75,000
Travers on August 12. Right now it looks like Carry Back against the field, and
if he can even imitate his form of early spring he should be very much the
best. Ambiopoise is the Travers dark horse; he is extremely partial to the
Saratoga racing surface.
Year after year
Saratoga provides 2-year-olds with a chance to show their real worth in five
major stakes. The Hopeful, at six and a half furlongs on closing day, August
26, is one of the most eagerly awaited races of any season. The list of winners
of the Hopeful reads like a chart of American racing itself—Regret, Man o' War,
Morvich, Whirlaway, Devil Diver, Relic, Middle-ground, Battlefield, Native
Dancer, Nashua, Needles, First Landing, Hail to Reason. The indications are
that this year's crop of 2-year-olds is one of the best of recent years, though
the majority of good eastern youngsters have not yet been to the races. In the
next few weeks Saratoga will demonstrate which colt will be the favorite for
the rich fall races and perhaps next year's Kentucky Derby as well.
This season, for
the first time, Saratoga will have turf racing on its program. A new one-mile
grass course has been completed and it gives the track three surfaces on which
to conduct racing—the main track, the turf course and the steeplechase (and
hurdle) course. Two major grass races will be run over the new course, and
Racing Secretary Tommy Trotter plans to fit a turf race into the regular
program as often as possible. Harbor View Farm's fine grass runner, Wolfram,
can go either for the Bernard Baruch or the Sanford, both worth $25,000.