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Horse of the Year

By The Scientist

Arts And Letters won the one hundredth running of the Travers Stakes by himself. He beat Claibvorne Farm's Dike, the second finisher, by six and a half lengths. The weight handicappers could take little solace in the fact. In the Belmont at a mile and a half Dike had been beaten seven and a half lengths by the Rokeby colt. Saturday's test was two fulongs shorter and Arts and Letters gave his nearest rival six pounds in the weights.

A conversation with noted racing writer Mel Heimer two days before the event garnered several opinions. First--Arts And Letters came closer to being a great horse with greater distance. Second--should this game chestnut be upset in the Travers, the defeat would rank with the loss of Gallant Fox and Whichone to Jim Dandy. Mel Heimer's books--Inside Racing and Pittsburg Phil--are racing classics and his opinions were ably proved by the running of the race.

The public believed implicity in the abilities of the horse, rider, and trainer. Arts And Letterswas the favorite at odds of one to five. Factors contributing to these low odds were: 1. A ten-length victory in his last race, the Jim Dandy Stakes. 2. The presence in the saddle of the great race rider Braulio Baeza. 3. The solid reputation of trainer Eliot Burch. 4. The confidence of many New York bettors who love a favorite and positively adore a sure thing.

Gleaming Light with Larry Adams went to the lead with Hydrologist and Angel Cordero, Jr. a half-length behind on the outside. Three lengths behind that pair raced Distray and John L. Rotz on the rail with Arts And Letters and Braulio Baeza a neck away on the outside. Dike and Jorge Velasquez trailed these by five lengths, as always. After six furlongs and with a half-mile to go Arts And Letters and Dike began stalking the leaders.

With one quarter-mile to go the first two finishers were in good position for the stretch run. Stop action at the quarter pole can be seen the excellent photograph below.

Gleaming Light is on the rail a half-length off the pace, and Larry Adams still has a little horse under him. The reins are slightly taut. Hydrologist is next, on the lead, and Cordero has set his horse down for a strong hand ride, the reins loose. Distray, a length off the leader, is being asked for some run by Rotz. Fourth from the rail is Art And Letters, Baeza up, two lengths from the leader and moving fastest of all. Braulio is not pushing his mount. The horse is running on its own courage, still fresh. But, notice that Braulio is looking over his right shoulder for the one run horse--Dike. Dike with his shadow roll on the extreme outside has head and kness high--signs of a tired horse set down for the drive.

This was the crucial moment of the race. Baeza later underscored the importance of this split second in his post-race comments. "I was happy to see Dike come up alongside on the turn. He (Velasquexz) was using his horse; I hadn't used mine. After we straightened out and we took the lead, I tapped him (Arts And Letters) on the shoulder a couple of times just to keep him interested."

Braulio Baeza had reason to be happy. Ten per cent of the winner's $69,290 purse was his. His face is hand carved mahogany and its expression never changes. He smiled last April. The event was duly recorded and commented upon by both of The Morning Telegraph's regular New York writers. Baeza has a complete and perfect talent. He rated Art And Letters superbly, waiting for the early leaders to come back to him. The finish--Arts And Letters, six and a half; Dike, three-quarters; Distray, a neck; Gleaming Light, two; Hydologist. By the way, Arts And Letters tied the track record.

On the lighter side. Billy the G turned right onto route #87. He whispered down the road past the chartered limousines flicking radio knobs and searching for WABC. In the back Smith-field and the Daytona Flash traded down-home stories about the country and being on the road. And they stole into the Spa with only with sharp money being wiser.

After checking out the previous days races on video tape in the confines of the jockey's room--"and Misty Run now getting too the lead,"--they visited old friends in white spats and sharkskin suits. The Wellesley Kid bought a round of drinks. A. G. Vanderbilt and wife were there for light conversation. A very live spirit from the past--when Arnold Rothstein won $850,000 on Sidereal, when Pittsburg Phil was in his heyday, when Diamond Jim Brady and Subway Sam Rosoff ate much and bet more, when a "handy guy like Sande was bootin' them babies in," and when the Grand Union Hotel would serve any dish if there was twenty-four hour notice. There is still some of this around. There are still faceless bettors with the thick glasses and hard rolls of hundreds with cigars and racing forms in their pockets accompanied invariably by young ladies who shovel in pate and attract large shiny stones called diamonds. Southern politeness, green lawns, and horses dictate pleasant atmosphere.

The season draws to a close. The bettors return to spacious Belmont and the city. The wealthy and other acquaintances of Jay Gatsby, refurbished by the springs, find the strength to attempt a sojourn abroad. The road narrows behind the back window of the Continental and the dark foggy night beckons with promises of tomorrow and next year.

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