General Assembly, the son of Secretariat who had never quite lived up to his potential, won the Travers Stakes today with a performance reminiscent of his old man.
He ran 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes flat. He set a track record on a deep, sloppy racing strip, and devastated some of the country's toughest 3-year-olds. He scored by an astonishing 15 lengths over Smarten, and left the brilliant filly, Davona Dale, 29 lengths behind him.
On paper, this had looked like one of the most evenly matched fields in the Travers' illustrious 110-year history, but General Assembly came into it with a few advantages. He loves this racing strip, having won here as a 2-year-old and in a prep race last week. He likes mud, and day-long rains inundated the track. And he was the only horse in the field with much early speed.
That was an advantage that trainer Leroy Jolley recognized, and he told jockey Jacinto Vasquez before the race, "If he can pull you to the lead, let him do it."
General Assembly broke sharply and pulled Vasquez toward the lead, with only the 40-to-1 shot, King Green, near him. The two colts raced together around the first turn, but General Assembly quickly shook off his challenger.
Jorge Velasquez, riding the favorite, Davona Dale, saw what was happening and didn't want to let the leader get too far away, and hustled the filly into contention. She stayed there only briefly. "She was jumping up and down when the mud was hitting her in the face," Velasquez said. "She never really settled down."
When Davona Dale dropped back, Sam Maple launched a move with Smarten, but he could never get close to the leader. When they turned into the stretch, General Assembly had a four-length lead, and the most brilliant quarter-mile run of his entire life was still ahead of him.
As his pursuers faltered in the mud, General Assembly skimmed it with long, fluid strides, lengthening his margin with every one of them, covering the last two furlongs in 24 1/5 seconds, time which would have been impressive on a lightning-fast track and was incredible under today's conditions.
His time broke the record of 2:00 1/5 set by Jolley's Honest Pleasure in the 1976 Travers.
General Assembly paid $8.80, $4.60 and $3.60. Smarten returned $4.20 and $3.20 and Private Account paid $4.40 to show.
Even before he had ever appeared in competition, General Assembly was one of the most talked-about horses in New York. The racing world had been waiting eagerly for Secretariat to produce a great offspring, and General Assembly not only showed enormous early potential, he bore a striking resemblance to his sire.
At last year's Saratoga meeting, he established himself briefly as the leading colt of his generation, but that was before Spectacular Bid emerged as a champion and eclipsed him. General Assembly could not beat Bid at 2, and he chased him in vain through this spring's Triple Crown series, managing only a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
"The Triple Crown is a tough grind," Jolley said. "After it, he was flat worn out, and he had to have some rest. For three weeks, we just walked him, until the hot walkers could hardly hold him."
When he teturned to competition here two Saturdays ago, General Assembly looked like a different horse. His habitually troublesome ankles appeared much better, and he gave an impressive performance that was a harbinger of his Travers performance.
After his victory, General Assembly was issued an invitation to the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park, the race that had been shaping up as a three-way battle between Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and Coastal to determine the best horse in America. If General Assembly can hold his present form until then, the Marlboro will become a four-horse battle.