The Headiest Horseman
Senior writer William Nack recalls jockey Eddie Arcaro, who died of liver cancer last Friday at age 81.
Between 1938 and '61, from the afternoon when he won his first Kentucky Derby, on Lawrin, to that autumn day when he hung up his tack for the last time, Arcaro came to be known as more than merely the ablest, most resourceful rider to sit on a thoroughbred. Indeed, his name became a synonym for jockey, his career an enduring lesson in the art and craft of race riding. Many of the sport's old-timers still see him as the standard of excellence.
In his 31 years in the saddle, beginning in 1931, Arcaro won 4,779 races on 24,092 mounts and more than $30 million in purses, but he's not remembered for his numbers. Though Bill Shoemaker won almost twice as many races (8,833) as Arcaro, and Laffit Pincay Jr. more than six times as much money ($190,089,776), no jockey ever dominated the sport at its highest levels as Arcaro did. He's the only rider to win two Triple Crowns, on Whirlaway in '41 and Citation in '48, and his 17 victories in Triple Crown events—five Derbys, six Preaknesses and six Belmonts—is a record that is unlikely to be broken. Whirly and big Cy aside, a list of Arcaro's celebrated mounts reads like a Burke's Peerage of horses: Kelso, Nashua, Assault, Bold Ruler, Native Dancer, Sword Dancer and Busher.
The horseplayers called him Steady Eddie and Heady Eddie and bet him with both fists. He was a strong finisher, with sure and sensitive hands, but it was his keen sense of pace and his riding savvy that set him apart. He was simply smarter than everybody else on the track. On the day of the historic 1955 match race between Derby winner Swaps and Preakness and Belmont champion Nashua, Arcaro had bettors at Washington Park in Chicago scratching their heads when he climbed on a cheap claimer named Mighty Moment in the fourth race. What was the great Arcaro doing on that plug? They soon learned. All the way around the track, on his way to finishing sixth, Arcaro was looking down and studying the muddy course, scouting it for Nashua in the seventh.
In that race Swaps, Shoemaker up, figured to go to the lead, and Arcaro knew that match races are won on the front end. So, waiting in the gate for the start, he began hollering and thrashing Nashua with his whip; as the gates popped open, the wide-eyed bay burst to the lead. Arcaro then herded Nashua into Swaps on the first turn, forcing Shoemaker's horse to the deeper going on the outside, and won the race right there. Nashua led a tiring Swaps by six at the wire.
Heady Eddie. There was only one.
Texas football fans can be ruthless when they're riled up, and now they've found a new way to vent. The Longhorns' 4-6 record has spawned www.sackmack.com, a Web site that chronicles the lowlights of John Mackovic's six years as Texas coach, and what are deemed his effete ways, under the headline THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, PRISSY JOHN. Visitors to the site can also buy a T-shirt emblazoned with a cartoon that shows Bevo, Texas's longhorn mascot, stuffing a loafer-clad man into a sack.
World Cup Skulduggery
On Nov. 10, during a break in training for Sunday's U.S.-El Salvador World Cup qualifier, U.S. captain John Harkes returned to his hotel room in Providence and listened with mounting anger to a message that had been left on his phone. As Harkes, a midfielder, later reconstructed it, the man said, in part, "Mr. Harkes, I'm contacting you because I represent El Salvador. You're experienced. You understand what this game means. If you have any interest at all, please call me back." He didn't identify himself. In another hotel room U.S. forward Roy Wegerle received a similarly suggestive message. Harkes and Wegerle had little doubt about what the caller or callers wanted to discuss: throwing the game for money.