“Anything can happen in the mud”

In discussing Sunday’s feature at Saratoga, Geno at Equispace wondered about the origin of the Jim Dandy, the stakes race run for the 45th time this weekend. Anyone who happened to be holding a ticket on the colt in the 1930 Travers would likely regale listeners with the story of one of the biggest upsets in racing history.

Facing only three rivals in the Travers that summer, Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox was the 1 – 2 favorite. The second choice, Harry Payne Whitney’s Whichone, broke down in the stretch, and Sun Falcon was, according to the New York Times report, “never a factor.”

Jim Dandy was certainly expected not to factor, as evidenced by his 100 – 1 odds at race time. He had won the Grand Union Hotel Stakes at Saratoga at two at a paltry 50 – 1, but Gallant Fox’s dominance and Jim Dandy’s poor race record (two for nine at two years old, one for twenty at three) shot the latter’s odds upwards.

Jim Dandy’s victory occurred over a muddy track, a surface apparently not to Gallant Fox’s liking. Bryan Field of the Times called it “the stickiest mud Saratoga [had] had all season,” and after the race, Earle Sande, Gallant Fox’s jockey, is reported to have said, “That horse Gallant Fox doesn’t like the mud.”

While Sunday’s running of the Jim Dandy was run over a track labeled “good,” rain began to fall (AGAIN!) in the afternoon, and after the torrents of rain Saturday night, the surface of the course seemed to change several times over the afternoon, at time looking cuppy, at others just a little off. None of this year’s Jim Dandy contenders seemed to have a real aversion to the surface, as it was pace and not track condition that led to Macho Again’s victory. While not quite the outsider that Jim Dandy was, Macho Again must have shocked the many bettors who backed odds-on favorite Pyro and ignored the grey son of Macho Uno, who went off at 8 – 1.

Ed Hotaling, in They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga, notes that Jim Dandy won on August 16, 1930: “Bread lines had formed, [and] four million were out of work.” Later: “Nobody recorded how many Depression victims cashed in at 100 to 1.” Despite the difficult economic times, Saratoga on that day flourished. 30,000 showed up to see the Travers in 1930 (Sunday’s official attendance at Saratoga was 38,748, but I don’t think that the attendance for the 1930 Travers was inflated by spinners eager to hoard free Saratoga caps), and the New York Times reported:

Harry Stevens was overwhelmed with requests for clubhouse tables, and the unprecedented course was followed of serving luncheon on the topmost deck of the clubhouse, normally little used, as it is so far a climb from the ground and the betting ring.

The patrons who secured table reservations were the lucky ones, as they were comfortable, had seats, and were well served, while hundreds of clubhouse guests had to stand in aisles and on stairways. The largest crowd since the train has been put on came up on the Saratoga Special from New York.

This first week at Saratoga has shown declines in both attendance and handle, following last year’s record-setting meet. It would be tough to nail down the factors causing the declines, given the extraordinarily bad weather over the last week. It’s rained nearly every day, hard enough to make people run for cover or abandon ship altogether…when the deluge began on Saturday afternoon, shortly before the Go for Wand, race fans fled, missing the last three races, including the Whitney.

So is it just the weather that’s keeping people away, or are economic factors contributing? Shortly before the meet opened, the Saratogian reported that house rentals and hotel reservations were both up from last year, but handle so far would indicate that while people are willing to spend on accommodations, they’re not willing to do so at the windows. The smaller fields and avalanche of scratches in off-turf races can’t help, either.

While it is true, as the Times’ Bryan Field noted, that “anything can happen in the mud,” there’s been mud a-plenty here but so far no triple digit odds. Most days have provided a bomb or two, keeping alive the hopes of those looking for a longshot, but nothing on the scale of Jim Dandy’s victory almost eighty years ago. An essentially unremarkable racehorse, Jim Dandy earned his spot in New York racing history, living up to his name and supplying a rationale for long-shot trainers, owners, and bettors everywhere…

3 thoughts on ““Anything can happen in the mud”

  1. There are a myriad reasons, to be sure, that contribute to the drop in handle nationwide. I just hope my earlier post had nothing to do with it. I would never forgive myself…

  2. I am getting to this post late. I was at the track all weekend. Very good recap as I feel the same. Hard to pinpoint the biggest factor–i think the weather, than the economy after that.

  3. Pingback: Post Time: Sophomore Colts Take Back Summer Spotlight - Sports, Ink

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