Saratoga in the rain.
That might sound romantic, if you have the good fortune to be a few hundred miles away. But, in fact, this otherwise wonderful racetrack is an utterly miserable place to be in a downpour.
The fans who ordinarily spend the day sitting outdoors in the spacious paddock area are jammed together in the grandstand. They are fortunate if they can find standing room where the roof isn't leaking above them. And the horses have it even worse than the horseplayers. The racing strip here has a rather poor drainage system, and a strong rain will turn the track into a quagmire.
So the rain that began Thursday and continued on through today has made it pretty depressing, unless . . .
1) You own Deputed Testamony.
2) You own Play Fellow.
These two principal candidates for Saturday's $225,000 Travers Stakes will surely be helped by the prospect of a muddy track. The weather has changed the whole character of the race that will probably determine America's champion 3-year-old.
If the rains hadn't come, readers of The Washington Post would have been unconditionally advised to mortgage their houses and bet all their worldly wealth on a California colt named Hyperborean. It was an absolutely classic handicapping situation.
The Saratoga track had been so fast and speed-favoring that stretch-runners had virtually no chance here. When entries were drawn for the Travers, the seven-horse field included six colts who figured to come from off the pace and one speed horse, Hyperborean, who had led all the way to win the rich Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park three weeks ago.
Hyperborean still has the considerable advantage of being the only speed horse in the field; he still has a good chance to score an upset. But horses' running styles are now much less important than their ability to cope with this kind of track.
"He handled the slop well at Santa Anita this winter," trainer Jerry Fanning said this morning. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that he will like Saratoga mud.
Both Play Fellow and Deputed Testamony have shown that they are quite adept at running in slop.
Play Fellow scored his first major victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland this spring, when he rallied from far behind to score an upset over Marfa. After failures in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, he went to Chicago this summer and scored victories in two major stakes there.
Trainer Harvey Vanier was delighted by the conditions. "This slow, steady rain makes for a deep, heavy track," he said, and that is just what his tender-footed colt loves.
Deputed Testamony emerged from obscurity on a sloppy track, when he rallied to score his stunning upset in the Preakness. He has since shown that he can handle any type of racing surface, but the mud has to help him, if only because it may hurt some of his rivals.
Timeless Native, the colt trained by Bud Delp, ran the worse race of his career the only time he has run on a slow track. Exile King and Slew o' Gold have never competed in the mud.
Slew o' Gold may be further hurt by his No. 1 post position. When this track gets muddy, the inside part of the track becomes a veritable bog. Of all the bad places to be at Saratoga when it rains, the rail is the worst.