Remembering the 2-Year-Old Iron Horse of Saratoga

As the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga approaches, the seven starts by 2-year-old Zev during the 1922 Saratoga meet are an indicator of just how much Thoroughbred racing has changed.

The Sept. 3 Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) closing day at Saratoga figures to attract some of the nation’s top 2-year-olds. For some of the contestants, the Hopeful might be just their first or second start at the historic track.

But 85 years ago--1922 to be exact--the Hopeful marked the seventh start of the Saratoga meet for Harry Sinclair’s eventual champion 2-year-old colt, Zev. It’s hard to tell if seven starts in one year is a Saratoga record, but one thing seems certain: It’s a lot of races for a 2-year-old against such demanding competition.

Racing for Sinclair’s Rancocas Stable and trained by Sam Hildreth, Zev was still a maiden after four races when he arrived at the Spa. Making his first start there opening day, Aug. 1, in a 20-horse field, Zev was beaten by a filly in a runner-up effort. It wasn’t all that bad for Sinclair and Hildreth, though, as Sinclair’s star 4-year-old colt Grey Lag beat the great Exterminator in the Saratoga Handicap on the same card.

Zev was out again Aug. 5, and this time won by five lengths after getting an early lead. Three days later, he was back in action and won an allowance race by four lengths in similar fashion. Given a week off, he returned to capture another allowance event, this time under 125 pounds while giving his rivals six to 15 pounds.

Sinclair’s good fortune also was evident in a big way that day. Sinclair’s Little Chief and Kai-Sang finished one-two in the Saranac Handicap.

Bumped up to stakes competition, Zev captured the Aug. 19 Grand Union Hotel Stakes with a front-running effort on what proved once again to be a grand day for Sinclair. Little Chief and Kai-Sang ran one-two in a three-horse Travers Stakes field.

Zev raced once more before the closing day Hopeful, winning the Aug. 28 Albany Handicap under top weight of 126 pounds as the heavy favorite. In the Aug. 31 Hopeful, Zev battled with Goshawk, each carrying 130 pounds, through most of the race, but both were passed by Dunlin near the end. Zev, who had beaten Dunlin in the Grand Union Hotel, finished third.

Zev raced once more that year, finishing second to the filly Sally’s Alley in the Sept. 16 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park while giving her eight pounds. Zev’s earnings for the year, $24,665, were well below Sally’s Alley's earnings of $94,847, the highest that year for a 2-year-old. Both Zev and Sally’s Alley were divisional champions.

Though Zev went on to bigger and better things as a 3-year-old--he won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and beat Epsom Derby winner Papyrus at Belmont--the fact that he started as many times as he did as a 2-year-old at the venerable upstate New York track should keep him in the history books for years to come.