Aside from cashing a bet, watching classic horses perform over classic distances is what thoroughbred racing is all about. Throw in a good steeplechase, for variety, and enjoy a field of talented 2-year-olds dashing through six furlongs, and the season should be a spectating success.
From this list, the toughest race to find most years is the outstanding sprint stake for 2-year-olds. Too often one juvenile dominates the summer action, or, if there is more than one standout colt, they take turns ducking each other until the fall when distances stretch out.
Unfortunately, by that time the high speed displayed by the most precocious runners has taken its toll and several usually are forced to the sidelines by physical ailments.
However, at Monmouth Park here Saturday, a slightly sensational Sapling Stakes appears to be in prospect. Alydar and Tilt Up, the best 2-year-olds to appear in New York thus far, head a field of seven in the $100,000 event.
Also entered in the six-furlong race are the underfeated Regal And Royal, New Jersey's best young prospect; Pipe Major from Canada, and Noon Time Spender from Florida. Pirateer, a stakes winner in the Midwest, and Dominant Ruler complete the lineup. All will carry 122 pounds.
This is the stuff of which memorable races are made. Alydar, Tilt Up and Regal And Royal, the three leading contenders, are beautifully bred horses which figure to carry their speed Derby distances next year. They are not to be confused with the speedballs designed to make some early money before major competition begins.
Alydar is by Raise A Native out of an On-And-On mare. The chestnut colt trained by young John Veitch captured the Great American and Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park in his last two starts and is envisioned by many observers as capable of returning Calunet Farm to its glory days of the 1940s and '50s.
Tilt Up is undefeated after two outings, including the Juvenile Stakes in New York. The bay colt is by Olden Times out of a Tudor Melody mare. Bert Firestone is the owner and LeRoy Jolley the trainer.
Jolley continues on an unbelievable streak, having developed Foolish Pleasure, Honest Pleasure, For The Moment and now Tilt Up, into top 2-year-olds the last four seasons.
Alydar and Tilt Up have the big-city credentials. There's no doubt about it. But for all their achievements, local residents believe both colts will be in a struggle if they are to hold off Regal And Royal Saturday.
Regal and Royal, a Florida-bred facing two of Kentucky's finest, is two-for-two over the Monmouth strip. In his most recent appearances two weeks ago, R & R ripped off 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03 4/5 - two fifths of a second off the track record - in winning by 10 lengths.
Regal and Royal, trained by veteran Jimmy Croll who won the sapling last year, is by Vagnely Noble out of Native Streak, by Native Dancer, and thus is a full brother to the 1973 Florida Derby winner Royal And Regal.
Pirateer also can be recommended. His 10-length victory at Delaware Park July 29 in 1:10 3/5 was an eye-opener, marking a return for him to the form he displayed in May in Chicago.
Pirateer is by the exceptional young sire Roberto out of a Chieftain mare, which means that he, too, is eligible to achieve anything off the quality of his breeding. Del Carroll is the trainer.
This Sapling has much the make up of the 1962 running, a renewal horsemen still talk about in this area. Never Bend was favored over Ahoy that afternoon. Both colts were undefeated and untested. Manuel Ycaza rode Never Bend. Herb Hinojosa was aboard Ahoy.
The two colts ran the first quarter mile in :21 1/5, with Never Bend's head in front. They ran the half mile in an incredible :44, at which point Ahoy showed a head in front although it didn't matter, because both young horses were now ready to be beaten as the field turned for home.
Delta Judge came on to score by a length over Bonjour as Never Bend faded to third place and Ahoy took fourth money.
That was a brilliant field. Never Bend went on to become the champion 2-year-old and a success at stud. Delta Judge also became an outstanding racehorse and sire. Ahoy was a superb sprinter as an older horse and fared moderately well as a stallion.
I have a strong hunch that the 2-year-olds in this Sapling are just as special. Barring injury, they figure to be heard from the remainder of this season and through the 1978 Triple Crown contests. And Saturday, here at Monmouth-by-the-Sea, they promise to put on the most exciting sprint of 1977.