In recent years, such horses as Secretariat and Affirmed have won the Hopeful Stakes and shown signs of future greatness.
Trainer Howie Tesher can dream today that the Hopeful will have similar significance for his colt Tap Shoes, who won the 76th running of the famous stake by two lengths.
But if this race is a reliable guide to racing future, it probably indicates that the Derby-age runners of 1981 will be only slightly superior to this year's indifferent crop. So far there are no superstars in the current generation of 2-year-olds.
Tap Shoes was not overly precocious, winning only one of his first three starts, but last week he had looked impressive rallying to win the Sanford Stakes here. Today he proved that performance was no fluke.
Jockey Ruben Hernandez was happy to let Tap Shoes bide his time while four speedsters battled for the lead. As the favorite West On Board and Well Decorated raced the first half-mile in 45 3/5, Hernandez gradually moved into striking position on the rail, causing his trainer some consternation.
"I told Ruben not to stay on the rail," Tester said. "Then I almost died when I saw him making his move on the rail." But Hernandez knew how strong the horse under him felt and said, "I had the best horse and I thought I could win from anywhere on the race track."
In fact, Hernandez was in the optimum position. When the field swung into the stretch, with the leaders beginning to weaken, a hole opened and Tap Shoes shot through it. He got the jump on the other confirmed stretch-runner in the field, Lord Avie, who had to hesitate a bit to find running room.
Tap Shoes held off his challenger by two lengths throughout the stretch run, while Lord Avie pulled six lengths away from the rest of the field.
Tap Shoes paid $7.20, $3.60 and $2.80. Lord Avie returned $4.20 and $3 and Well Decorated paid $4.
Tap Shoes ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17, time that confirms the notion that he is a good colt but certainly no Secretariat or Affirmed. He covered the six furlongs in 1:10 3/5, while half an hour earlier a field of older allowance horses ran that distance in the same time.
But unlike a lot of 2-year-old flashes who win sprint stakes and disappear into oblivion, Tap Shoes is a colt with a future. His breeding suggests that he will be even more effective as the distances get longer. And the way he ran through the stretch today conveys the same impression.