Until the Florida Derby last Saturday, one of the unanswered questions about Nashua was whether he could run in the mud. Just four hours before the Derby, a short but violent tropical rainstorm hit Gulf-stream Park, turning an otherwise heavy surface into a thick slop. There was quite a to-do during the pouring lunch hour over what Nashua's owner, Bill Woodward, might elect to do.
Woodward himself didn't have an easy time making up his mind, so midway through lunch he left the table and put in a call to Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons who had already brought the rest of the Belair string to New York. Sitting in his Sheepshead Bay parlor where he was later to view the race on television, Mr. Fitz heard Bill Woodward describe the slop over 1,000 miles away. Then he gave a clear and definite answer: "We'll run him the way he is—without stickers" (stickers are mud calks enabling a horse to keep a better footing in the mud). Later, however, the Woodward board of strategy, including John Fitzsimmons, acting Trainer Bart Sweeney and Jockey Eddie Arcaro, met again. Arcaro had gotten the feel of the track during the fourth race and he noticed his mount slipping a bit. On his advice, Nashua was equipped, at the last moment, with calks on his front legs.
Just before saddling up, Arcaro was asked whether he thought Nashua could run in the mud or not. "This is the place we're going to find out," was his reply. "And I'd just as soon put him through that trial in a $100,000 race as in a $5,000 race." Everybody, including Arcaro, now knows that yes, Nashua is as brilliant in the mud as he is out of it.
THE PRICE IS SHORT
It was pretty obvious all around last week that Nashua literally "made" this fourth running of the Florida Derby. Wherever a horse with his magnetic appeal is entered he is going to draw huge crowds regardless of the caliber of the opposition, the weather or what. Nashua, in the space of less than one year, has already attained a trackside and television following approaching the hero worship that the American public last associated with Native Dancer. Furthermore, barring mishaps in the weeks ahead, this remarkable bay seems destined to become one of the shortest price favorites in the history of the Kentucky Derby next month. He has already made some notable history that give indications that he may eclipse Citation's record money-earning total of $1,085,760. With the $100,000 earned in the Florida Derby, Nashua's earnings now total an amazing $402,340, which hoists him into 24th position on the alltime winning list and is also more money than any horse in history ever won in the same comparative stage of his career.
All this has come to him before the Triple Crown events and before any of the rich New York fixtures, including the Wood Memorial to be contested at still another $100,000 at Jamaica on April 23. Owner Woodward will reserve judgment for a while on Nashua's next engagement. "We want to win the Kentucky Derby very much," he says. "And to be sure we're ready for it, Nashua may pass up the Wood if Summer Tan runs in it. There would be no point in having Nashua kill himself two weeks before the Derby."
Florida Derby Day at Gulfstream was not entirely Nashua's day. More properly it might have been called Carnival Day, for probably no race in history has been preceded by more fanfare, buildup and pre-race festivities. Gulfstream opened its gates at 9 a.m., more than four hours before the first race and almost eight hours before the Derby itself. Early arrivals might well have wondered for a moment if they hadn't strolled into a state fair. There was music from a dance orchestra and from the University of Miami band. There were also a parade of state flags, trick riding exhibitions, baton twirling and, throughout most of the afternoon following the ill-timed arrival of the rain, water skiing on the infield lake where tiny multicolored sailboats puffed lazily about.
All this gaiety at Gulfstream's biggest day of the year is not just pure coincidence. It is the product of the imagination, ambition and energy of two men who have built Gulfstream into one of America's premier race tracks. The two are track President James Donn and his chief of staff, Horace Wade. Donn came to the United States from Scotland almost half a century ago and is today recognized as one of the leading authorities on flowers, shrubbery and garden landscaping. (In a step to outdo the pomp at the Kentucky Derby where the winner gets a wreath of roses, Donn awards his Florida Derby winners a wreath of orchids.) He has wisely put most of the management of Gulfstream into the hands of Wade who carries the triple title of racing secretary, director of racing and publicity director. Between them, Donn and Wade have built their Florida Derby into a major race.
SWITCH FOR THE ORCHIDS
One of their aims, and one due for some discussion at the next meeting of the state legislature, is to give Gulfstream patrons a better break on racing dates. The way things stand now, thanks to a state law of several years standing, southern Florida racing dates are granted on the basis of revenue. Thus, Hialeah, which leads in revenue, always grabs off the middle dates, mid-January to early March, during the height of the whirling social season. Gulfstream, with second choice, has chosen in recent years to follow Hialeah—all of which leaves Miami's third race track, Tropical Park, with no alternative but to open the winter season in November and close down in mid-January. The people at Gulfstream are now giving serious thought to trading dates with Tropical or seeing what could be done about running a split meeting—before and after Hialeah.