The acceptance by American horsemen of a stakes race worthy of classic stature is usually a long process. The most startling exception in racing history is an event to be run off in New Jersey this week: the Garden State—at a mile and a sixteenth for 2-year-olds. The stake is a new one, only in its third year, but so wealthy that by post time the gross value of the Garden State may conceivably reach the phenomenal sum of around $300,000—or $50,000 more than Man o' War earned in his entire career. The inventor of the Garden State is Vineland, N.J.'s imaginative Eugene Mori, track president. While shopping around in 1952 for ideas to present a major race with genuine prestige value, Mori devised a plan that made good common sense: a race with futurity payment conditions that for the first time would send 2-year-olds over a distance of ground. The race would serve, to some extent, to separate the sprinters from the And not only could its results assist in determining the 2-year-old championship, but they could be well used as a yardstick with which to measure the potential ability of the following season's 3-year-olds.
As the track's part in putting over the new stake, Garden State puts up $100,000 in added money. The rest comes from the horsemen themselves: 712 original nominations of $35 each last December; 532 further payments of $100 each last March; 241 further payments of $250 each last July—all of which added up, three months before race day, to $238,370. Supplementary nominations were then accepted at the staggering fee of $10,000 each—and this week owners eying the winner's take-home check of about $160,000 will be asked to ante up another $2,000 each to enter the starting gate.
Winner of the first Garden State was Turn-to who, after winning the Flamingo the next February, was retired before he could fulfill his role as a Kentucky Derby favorite. Last fall, with the champion Nashua not entered, victory went to his archrival, Summer Tan.
The 2-year-olds from coast to coast have been described as an ordinary lot—in sharp contrast to the seasons when standouts such as Citation, Native Dancer or Nashua swept nearly every race of the campaign. But, if the champion of the division may lack for the moment some of the all-winning glamour of his predecessors, just the task of naming that champion may be the most difficult job in years.
This week's Garden State may settle it and, happily for those who thrive on wide-open races, the world's richest horse race should be wide open. One leading candidate for the championship, Swoon's Son, is at home in Kentucky, but most of the others can be expected in the post parade. The race may develop into one of the best of the year despite the chronic complaint among horsemen that its large fields, circling two turns, often leave even the best horses without a reasonable chance to win. Here are some favorites worth watching:
Needles, Florida-bred son of Ponder, winner of the Hopeful and Sapling who recently ran a 1:37 1/5 mile on the Garden State track.
Career Boy, double stakes winner at Saratoga. Dislikes mud, usually makes a late run, like his sire Phalanx.
Nail, winner of the Belmont Futurity in sloppy going.
Bold Bazooka, owned by Comedian Lou Costello, equaled the world record of 1:03 1/5 for 5� furlongs at Hollywood Park.