This is the year
of the Meadow Stud, which owns Riva Ridge (two record performances) and
Secretariat (three of them, and a sweep of the Triple Crown). Secretariat has
been syndicated for $6 million and last week plans were being completed to
syndicate Riva Ridge for more than $5 million. So, side by side in Trainer
Lucien Laurin's stable at Belmont Park was over $11 million in horseflesh, the
two costliest thoroughbreds in training anywhere and perhaps the two best. But
there they stayed last Saturday afternoon, though the $100,000 Suburban, the
most prestigious handicap race in the nation, was being run only a few miles
away at Aqueduct.
There was never
any thought of Secretariat taking on the older horses in the Suburban; he is
scheduled to meet them next week in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga. But Laurin
had been eager to start Riva Ridge. He thinks the world of this 4-year-old, who
has now earned over a million dollars, and he has never gotten over the fact
that Key to the Mint, rather than Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner
Riva, was named champion 3-year-old of 1972. So the trainer was pining to beat
the Key, well and soundly. The Suburban was to be a grudge match. But Laurin
knows that Riva Ridge, for all his brilliance on a fast track, cannot run in
the mud. And rain threatened, as all week long a cold front inched toward New
York on the weather map, pushing thundershowers ahead of it. Would the front
hold off long enough and the track be fast? For once Meadow Stud's luck
The rain began
coming down Friday evening and continued, almost without interruption, through
the night, through Saturday morning and through the early part of Saturday
afternoon. By post time the track was so sloppy that the wheels of the starting
gate, as it was being moved into position, sent up a wedge of spray like the
prow of a ship.
Riva Ridge was
scratched. Key to the Mint went off at 3 to 5 and ran like 3 to 5. He is hard
to rate, especially when another horse is alongside, but this time nothing made
a serious run at him in the early going and Jockey Braulio Baeza had an easier
time than usual keeping him relaxed. A California colt, Royal Owl, raced within
half a length of the Key until midway down the backstretch, then started
backing up. By the homestretch Baeza and the Key had a six-length lead and the
race would have been a breeze had it not been for a late rush by a horse named
True Knight, who closed fast, just as he did in the Brooklyn Handicap in which
he was beaten by only a head by Riva Ridge in world-record time.
True Knight ran a
remarkable race in the Suburban. After a quarter of a mile he was dead last in
the field though it included the notoriously slow breaker Loud, a horse who has
been banished from the track twice for his tardy habits out of the gate. After
half a mile, True Knight was still last and about 19 lengths behind Key to the
Mint. Then he started moving, and at the end of the mile and a quarter he was
beaten less than two lengths. The winning time, despite the slop, was an
excellent 2:00 4/5.
Though he failed
in his bid, True Knight had Key to the Mint all out at the finish and Baeza
said later, "That horse was coming at me and I kept looking at the finish
line and it seemed to be getting farther and farther away."
Left unresolved by
the Suburban was the question of whether Key to the Mint or Riva Ridge is the
better horse. To date the colts have met in eight stakes races and each has
beaten the other four times. This year they are one-and-one in their duel.
One thing the
Suburban did prove was that both Riva and Key to the Mint are many pounds
better than the rest of the handicap horses in the East, with the possible
exception of True Knight. In the Suburban the Key was giving away eight to 14
pounds to his rivals, but the closest any of them but True Knight could come at
the finish was eight lengths.
The Suburban also
proved that handicap racing, under today's cockeyed economics, is in trouble.
The event, first run in 1884, has been won by such great horses as Equipoise,
Armed, Tom Fool, Nashua, Bold Ruler and Kelso. Yet this year only six starters
showed up to try for the money and glory—and four had so little chance that the
lowest odds on any of them were 9 to 1.
Who will run in
next year's Suburban? Not Riva Ridge, even if the track is fast, for he goes to
stud for his syndicate at the end of 1973. Not Key to the Mint, whose Owner
Paul Mellon talks of syndicating and who, in any case, will retire to stud this
fall. Nor Secretariat, king of the 3-year-olds, who will be bred while still a