- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
An hour before Hialeah proudly presented the $141,800 Flamingo Stakes for 3-year-olds last Saturday, a jockey named George Edward Arcaro was standing by the snack bar in the jocks' room. As he leaned over the counter sipping a cup of coffee and drawing on a filtered cigaret, Arcaro was the perfect picture of the confident man. He had already slipped on the white-and red-dotted silks of the Belair Stud and now, in the last few quiet moments before he would ride out to face a flamingo-pink world, he spoke from the heart about the horse he was about to ride. "I know Nashua is the outstanding 3-year-old in the country. What I don't know—and what nobody else here knows either—is whether Nashua will run like the best 3-year-old."
Thus, in a nutshell, America's finest rider posed what may be the only real question about his mount—a magnificent bay problem child possessing the speed and heart of a champion and yet just enough of the unpredictable temperament of a prima donna to justify a sense of uneasiness among his followers every time he steps out on a race track. In the walking ring a few minutes later Arcaro legged up on Nashua under the careful scrutiny of Belair's master, William Woodward Jr., and Belair's trainer, 80-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. During the previous week the trio had discussed tactics, the opposition—and the problem child. After Nashua won his first race of the year five days earlier at a mile and a sixteenth, Mr. Fitz told worried observers: "He had me a little frightened, running the last eighth like a clown and looking up in the grandstand as though he were counting the house. It isn't that he's mean, but it seems he resents Eddie using the whip." Then, after some reflection, he added, "I see a lot of Gallant Fox in this horse. When he got in front, he'd drop his ears and say, 'That's that.' But, like Gallant Fox, this colt should be a great one." As an added precaution that Nashua wouldn't flub his chance to give Mr. Fitz the first Flamingo victory of the old trainer's long and happy career, the big bay was relieved of his customary blinkers. "I want him to see all he can see without worrying himself," explained Sunny Jim.
There is no telling how much worrying Nashua did last Saturday. None, however, among the record Hialeah crowd of 37,282 escaped from the pink premises without suffering through a 12-minute period of anxious suspense. Nashua won his race, as most everybody expected he would. He won this mile-and-a-furlong classic by a length and a half over Mrs. Marion duPont Scott's Saratoga and 10 other rivals, but even as he crossed the line under the usual proficient Arcaro hand-ride Nashua prompted veterans in the stands to predict that if any horse beats Nashua it will probably be Nashua himself. Here they had a good point, for in this 26th Flamingo Nashua nearly did beat himself—not for lack of running fast enough, but because of an old familiar tendency to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.
This time Nashua did it, as he nearly always does, on the way home. The race, for the last quarter mile, was strictly between Nashua and Saratoga, both of whom had moved to the front shortly after passing the half-mile pole. In the upper stretch, as Nashua and Saratoga ran away to settle this issue between themselves, Nashua bore out. As he did he had a brief brushing encounter with Ted Atkinson aboard Saratoga. Later, with but a 16th of a mile to go, Nashua ducked suddenly in toward the rail in still another demonstration of unruly running temperament.
Atkinson, as expected, protested that Nashua's behavior ruined Saratoga's winning chances. The judges, however, after a 12-minute study of the films, exonerated Nashua and ruled that he already had a length lead when he swerved in approaching the finish.
The decision brought a relieved sigh from a mass of bettors who had sent Nashua postward at odds of 7 to 10. It also brought some relief to the triumvirate of Woodward, Fitzsimmons and Arcaro, who could sit down to divvy up a check for $104,600. Said Arcaro after the race, "He ran a little more kindly today, but was still fooling around. If he had run as he should, he would have won by 10. You can't tell how good he is."
One reason nobody can tell how good Nashua is, as he starts off in quest of the Kentucky Derby roses and the honor of being history's ninth Triple Crown winner, is that the 1955 Flamingo gave Nashua relatively little opposition. The real test of the Flamingo was to have been between rich and mighty Nashua and the unbeaten Boston Doge, who has won all eight of his races. But late on Thursday Boston Doge developed a slight cough. Owners Paul and Frank Andolino immediately agreed that their star should be saved for the Experimental Handicap at Jamaica on April 2.
As for Nashua's future plans, Woodward and Fitzsimmons said they would make a decision after the weekend. Mr. Fitz would like to bring his star to New York soon, but he gladly concedes that the boss should have the last word. "If Mr. Woodward wants to spend more time in Florida, we may point for the Florida Derby [at Gulf-stream, March 26]. Mr. Woodward should be allowed a few decisions. After all, I want him to have some fun owning this horse."
Owning Nashua may indeed be fun for Woodward, Mr. Fitz and part-time worker Arcaro in 1955. "But," warned Arcaro as he departed, "there's a lot of tough races ahead. None of us know what to expect from Summer Tan and Royal Coinage [ Nashua's leading rivals in 1954), and out in California they've got some pretty fair horses, too. This could be Nashua's year—but Nashua is going to have to make it his year the hard way."