- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"So I called Arcaro, and he said, 'Jimmy, I'm sorry, but I've promised Ben Whitaker I would ride his horse in the Derby.' Horse named My Request. I said, 'Eddie, My Request is a fine horse, but Citation is a different kind of horse.' So he comes down to Havre de Grace and rides him and finds this out. But then down in Loolville he hears all this talk about Coaltown, and he comes over to me and says, 'Are you sure I'm on the right horse?' I said, 'Don't you worry. You're on the right horse.'
"Both my father and I felt sure Citation would knock hell out of Coaltown, though my father was hoping he was wrong. It would have been a little more satisfying for him to tie Derby Dick Thompson's record [four winners] with the one he had been handling himself.
"But what we really wanted was first and second, so we told Arcaro, now don't press Coaltown too early because we want him to have enough left for second. We talked about this so much, Eddie got a little dreamy. Down the backstretch Coaltown was stealing away four-five-six lengths. But finally he slapped him a coupla times and Citation went past him in a sixteenth of a mile and then galloped, and Coaltown had plenty left to beat My Request.
"We raced the two together only one other time. We made a sprinter out of Coaltown. Citation went on to win the Triple Crown and to be the first horse to make a million dollars, but to this day there are still a lot of people down there who think we pulled Coaltown.
"Citation's time was slow in the Derby, but it was sloppy that day, a real mess, and it was a much deeper track then. We had set the record with Whirlaway in '41. He won by eight lengths. When you see a horse set a record off by himself like that, you know you've got something. You see a horse set a record in a tight finish, it means a whole bunch of them have run fast, so it is probably the track. They changed the track at Churchle Downs in the summer of '56. They went over to Douglas Park because they were going to tear it down, and a lot of the horsemen thought it was a better surface than Churchle, so they skimmed the dirt and brought it over.
"Now I've been around dirt all my life, and it has a peculiar quality. It takes several years for dirt to meld, to get together. When Tim Tarn won in 1958, it was raining and it was like racing in chewing gum, but by the time Decidedly broke the record in '62 the soil had gotten together. A couple years later the track began to get a little wavy, so they rebuilt it again, and now you sprinkle a little water on it and it's like a pavement.
"The best Derby of them all may have been '57, and it was the first winner I actually saddled myself. That was the vintage Derby: Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, Round Table, and we had to scratch Gen. Duke out of it, before Hartack wins it with Iron Liege. I guess, taken as a whole, you've got to say that was the finest group that ever ran.
"I had great luck with Hartack. He could really ride a finish. He didn't have the best judgment, I don't think, and he wasn't pretty riding, but from the eighth pole you wanted him on your horse. I'll tell you how he won that Derby. Iron Liege was a funny horse. Most all horses like to run on the outside, but Iron Liege was stupid out there. Yet on the inside he was a champion. He never got beat there. Well, Hartack placed him on the inside and held him there, and when he came around that last corner he just started jingling those other horses to death.
"It's not an exact science, you know. You just try to fix it so they might come up their best at 5:30 that afternoon in Loolville."
In the tidy house, down a side street in Hollywood, Fla., five minutes from Gulfstream, the little man sits alone with his mother, who is hard-of-hearing, and a tiny old dog who has gone blind with age. Since the little man has had five ulcers and three-fourths of his stomach removed, he must be careful, too, so now he is only sipping sweet fruit wine.