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In the middle of one of racing's most exciting seasons the brilliant 3-year-old duels and the prospects for more of the same in the fall handicaps have obscured the fact that turf course racing is taking its rightful place on the American scene. Earlier in the year Santa Anita and later on Chicago's Arlington and Washington parks ran some of their richest stakes over the turf, and the resulting mutuel handle clearly reflected public approval.
Today no U.S. course is doing more than Atlantic City to support this trend and give credence to the theory so well expressed last fall by Trainer Syl Veitch after Fisherman, in his first start on grass, won The International at Laurel. "A good horse," said Veitch then, "will run on anything." Many good horses (among them Swaps, who in his only start on the turf tied an American record) have since proved Veitch quite right—and have assisted in exploding the false myth that only certain horses, the majority of them both foreign-bred and foreign-raced, are capable of racing on grass. "Most American horses run freely on grass pastures from the day they are foaled," said Trainer Bob Lilly at Atlantic City the other afternoon. "Why should they have trouble racing over it?"
Atlantic City provides both the turf and the incentive to attract the best. The secret of the course, which many horsemen flatly claim is the best turf surface in the country, is that it has been allowed sufficient time to mature. During the meeting the grass is kept nearly eight inches long to protect the well-grounded roots and to provide a soft cushion. Extensive watering is used to maintain its good condition.
To bring the best available racers to Atlantic City, the association this season is presenting more than half of its stakes on the turf course. The highlight of the program is a unique series of events known as the Triple Turf Classic—worth, in all, some $200,000. The first half of the series was run off last Saturday with two individual $50,000 mile-and-a-furlong events. The first was limited to foreign-bred racers, 3-year-olds and up; the second was for American-bred 3-year-olds and up. A total of 18 answered the starter's call for the two events (from an original nomination list of 66) and, by the conditions of the classic, the first four to finish in each race automatically qualified to start—at no further nomination or starting fee—in this Saturday's $100,000 United Nations Handicap at a mile and three-sixteenths.
The importance of the Triple Turf Classic was accentuated by the arrival by air a few days before the race of two of France's leading racers, Martin Fabiani's Klairon and George Wildenstein's Jolly Friar. These two foreign camps added a happy international flavor to the day, but the best effort on the part of either horse was the third-place finish by Klairon under a fine ride by young Jean Deforge. The winner—and heavy favorite—was Mrs. H. L. Nathenson's Blue Choir, ridden by Willie Hartack and trained by Bob Lilly, who solemnly admitted before post time, "My horse is just rounding into the best condition of his career." The Wildenstein forces were in for bitter disappointment—all the more bitter when you consider they flew over 3,000 miles for the race. Jolly Friar, despite a walk-up start, received some unfortunate handling from an assistant on the line and finally, in the tradition of a Frenchman who dislikes being pushed around, he refused to break at all and, consequently, never even started around the course.
The American Bred Stakes went to Chris Chenery's Prince Hill, and the big surprise in this one was that Alfred Vanderbilt's favored Social Outcast missed out altogether, finishing fifth in a field of eight. This Saturday the eight "finalists" have it out again and, from what I've seen, I must go along with Blue Choir, the Irish-bred 4-year-old. He'll have Hartack on him again, and Willie is riding at the moment as though he owned Atlantic City.
While they're settling the United Nations Handicap at the shore, horse-of-the-year honors may be decided at Belmont this Saturday. Nashua, well rested after his match race, goes against older horses for the first time in the mile-and-a-furlong Sysonby. The older horses include High Gun and Helioscope, so far this year the two leading 4-year-olds, and I know a few oldtimers predicting that this is where Nashua will get his comeuppance. I think they're wrong.