Be it the Continent, Great Britain or America-coast-to-coast, August is resort month. With an eye on the sky and their summer fast vanishing, vacationers move to the spas and the sea, and the sport of horse racing moves with them. Last week, as relaxing crowds lined the rails hoping for the best, the Thoroughbreds were off at France's Deauville, at Brighton on the Channel coast of England and at California's Del Mar, from whose grandstand the Pacific can be seen.
But nowhere was the racing tradition more hallowed or the event more important than at stately Saratoga, the famed old watering spot in the foothills of the Adirondacks where the Thoroughbreds have been running for 104 years. There last Saturday afternoon the elegant 2-year-old at right, What a Pleasure, paraded out of the elm-shaded paddock and onto the track, where he came from behind to win the 63rd running of the Hopeful Stakes, the closing-day classic at Saratoga.
The Hopeful is a significant race because it is the first meeting of America's most promising 2-year-olds at six and a half furlongs. It is supposed to, and often does, separate the ordinary sprinters from the colts who will make racing history in the 3-year-old season to follow. In the past 15 years Hopeful winners have included Native Dancer, Nashua, Needles, Jaipur and Buckpasser. The event also attracts racing's big names—Widener, Whitney, Vanderbilt, Mellon and this year's biggest name, Phipps. Coming out of Wheatley Stable, with Eddie Neloy as his trainer, Braulio Baeza in his saddle and Bold Ruler in his bloodline, What a Pleasure had a lot going for him before the Hopeful began.
Though the colt did not start particularly well, Baeza moved him precisely and perfectly, first out of sixth place in the backstretch, then up to fourth midway through the final turn and finally between horses to beat a surging 43-to-1 shot, Royal Trace, by a head and the tiring Exclusive Native by a neck more.
Subpet, the favorite in the nine-horse field, ran uninspiringly to finish fifth, while Pappa Steve, the early pacesetter, performed like many of his Californiabred contemporaries: he stopped dead at the 16th pole and came in last.
It is hardly a surprise that the Phippses' Wheatley Stable should have won the Hopeful, and even less of a surprise that a son of Bold Ruler pulled off the feat, for he has become one of the more astonishing stallions of the decade, a sire of an abundance of stakes winners, even if few of them relish the classic distances.
So rich with talent are the Phipps horses that What a Pleasure, now a winner of four of his six starts and second in the other two, does not impress Trainer Neloy all that much. "He has speed, all right," says Neloy, "and a certain amount of versatility, but he is a little light in flesh and we have no idea yet how he's going to like the longer distances."
The Phipps family, which has been threatening for the last few years to break up the game for everyone else, what with record earnings and million-dollar winners like Buckpasser, has a strong bench in the event that What a Pleasure fails when the distances get longer. Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, mistress of Wheatley Stable, has a promising colt in Funny Fellow, while her son, Ogden Phipps, is the owner of an Ambiorix colt named Jaunty and another fine Bold Ruler, Vitriolic, who has gone to Chicago's Arlington Park for the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 9.
Finally, there is one Bold Ruler—also on display at Saratoga last week—who may like all distances and who could be the best 2-year-old of either sex. She is Ogden Phipps's undefeated (5 for 5) filly, Queen of the Stage, who won the Spin-away on Wednesday. "We've got her in the Futurity just in case," grinned Neloy, in the very act of toasting What a Pleasure's victory at Saratoga.
Perhaps Queen of the Stage is the fastest of all, but as the scenes on the following pages show, the winner of the Hopeful best summarizes this week's resort racing from Deauville to Del Mar: What a Pleasure.