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By 6:30 A.M. last Saturday a small knot of people, some busy, some just curious, had gathered outside of barn No. 17 at New York's Aqueduct race track. From stall No. 1 stepped a striking bay colt. His name, already a household word among the Belair Stud's hustling stable hands, was scrawled with a dull pencil on a dusty piece of paper tacked by the stall's door. It was genuinely believed by the knot of people that the name of Nashua would be more familiar around the world later that afternoon. For Saturday was Futurity Day at nearby Belmont Park, and Nashua, the powerfully built son of Nasrullah, was going in quest of a victory in America's traditional classic for two-year-olds. The Futurity is six and a half furlongs on a straightaway down the Widener chute. In it some of the country's best-loved champions have made their mark. Now Nashua, already winner of five of his seven starts, including the Grand Union Hotel Stakes, the Hopeful, the Anticipation, was set to make his.
As the group moved to the back-stretch rail to watch Nashua limber up with a mile gallop, word went around that 80-year-old Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, a beloved gentleman who has tutored horses in the ways of winning races for over half a century, had just phoned. "I have a little cold coming on," said Mr. Fitz to his son and assistant trainer, Jimmy. "I've done all I can for the colt. I don't think I'll get out today." Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, cold or no cold, was entitled to be a little superstitious, a little nervous—or possibly both—last Saturday. In all of his years of racing Mr. Fitz has won three Kentucky Derbies, five Belmonts, 10 Saratoga Cups, six Wood Memorials and hundreds of other championship tests. But he had never won the Futurity. This day, for the 65th running, he decided to take his chances beside a television set.
Nashua's Futurity day started early. At 4 A.M., the night watchman brought him two quarts of oats. Following the mile gallop he killed time in Stall No. 1, peering out at his visitors and waiting for more to eat. By 10 o'clock his groom brought him race-morning rations—two more quarts of oats instead of the usual three. Nashua begged for more by pawing the straw in No. 1, even made a few good-natured passes at the splinters on the stall door. "I think the only thing that ever worries him is getting enough to eat," the foreman said. "With some horses," said Jimmy Fitzsimmons, "it's traveling. Not him. You could ship him to Africa and it wouldn't bother him."
Nashua didn't have to go that far. Shortly after noon, he vanned over to Belmont where six other formidable two-year-olds were ready for him, along with some 37,000 pari-mutuel addicts. The horse fans made him the favorite. So did his jockey, Eddie Arcaro. As Arcaro slipped into Belair's silks (red polka dots on white blouse), he said simply, "I think I'm on the best horse." Jimmy Fitzsimmons said, "He's ready to go now."
And go Nashua did, although for the first quarter of a mile only those equipped with super field glasses were lucky enough to see for themselves just what was happening in the outer spaces from where the Futurity field must start its furious charge to the wire. From the beginning only four of the seven horses (all equally weighted at 122 pounds) were factors.
First it was Hal Price Headley's Georgian. The Washington Park Futurity winner raced out to a slim lead of a length at the end of the first half mile. Behind him, all running easily, were Nashua and then Clearwater Stables' Royal Coinage and Mrs. Russel A. Firestone's Summer Tan. At this point Arcaro decided to move. Nashua agreed and the pair slipped by Georgian as Summer Tan moved up to second, Royal Coinage held third and the Headley color-bearer was out of it for good. The rest of the way was a thriller. Arcaro used the whip on Nashua just once, about an eighth from home. That—and, as Arcaro said, the sight of the other colts driving on either side—was enough. Nashua's margin at the finish was a head over Summer Tan, with Royal Coinage another three-quarters of a length back. Nashua's time over a fast track: 1:15 3/5. His sixth victory in eight starts earned Owner William Woodward a handy $88,015. It also earned Nashua something which some owners, even in this day of rich purses, treasure more than the winner's check: a permanent position in American turf history alongside such former Futurity winners as Domino, Colin, Man o' War, Citation, Tom Fool and Native Dancer.
In the President's Room after the race, Woodward sipped champagne and accepted congratulations for Belair and Trainer Fitzsimmons. "I know Fitz really does have a cold," he said, "but I also strongly suspect he may be glad the cold arrived today. Fitz wouldn't have wanted a big fuss made over him."
Nashua himself took all the fuss in stride. Back at Aqueduct's Barn No. 17, he finished off the remainder of his day's ration of 30 pounds of hay.
Losing owners had a consolation: Sysonby, Gallant Fox, Equipoise, Whirlaway and Count Fleet also lost the Belmont Futurity in their years.