Victories are the sweetest when they come in distances of 15 lengths, owner John R. Neal said today as his gelding, Prince Saran, breezed over the new Great Meadow Course to win the 60th running of the $15,000 Virginia Gold Cup by that margin before a record crowd of 32,000.

"We lost in a photo finish by a nose last year," said the Tennessee businessman, "so it's a very sweet victory for us today."

Rider Paul Sloan, 40, held the 11-year-old dark bay off the early pace before making the move to the front at the 15th of 23 timber fences. By the following fence, Prince Saran already had secured a 1 1/2-length lead over pacesetter Freeman's Hill with Billy Meister in the saddle.

Sloan let the horse run over the next seven fences, easily repelling a late effort by Private Gary and substitute rider Charlie Fenwick. Fenwick, a Baltimore car dealer, got the riding assignment after rider of the year D.M. (Speedy) Smithwick injured his hand in a fall during the second race.

Sloan never had to rely on his riding crop in the stretch as Prince Saran galloped over the finish line ahead of Private Gary and was clocked at 8:29 2/5 over the four miles. Freeman's Hill finished another four lengths back for third.

"The only problem was trying to keep him rated, to keep him back," Sloan said. "He really likes to run and he likes the fences."

Sloan took time off from his honeymoon to ride today after marrying his former law partner, Lin, on Thursday. "This is his (Prince Saran's) wedding present to us," he said.

Sloan said he was concerned he had lost too much weight and had difficulty at the end. "He started the season at 180 pounds and he starved himself to death," said Lin Sloan. "He's now down to 160 1/2 pounds, so he's a little weak."

Only five of the 11 starters finished as the hard turf took its toll again on horses and riders during the seven-card program. Frog Prince, Linberg, Tiger's Houdini, Tobiano, and Carlo Friend all lost riders while Gary Rose pulled up on Virginia timber horse of the year Cookin' n Lookin'.

Bar Jacket, a 6-year-old chestnut gelding owned by Dorothy S. Poe and ridden by Smithwick, had to be destroyed after breaking his leg at the 12th jump, the water jump, during the First Colony Life Insurance Plate, a 2 1/2-mile hurdle race for $3,000.