The tentative Derby field, however, is filled by others well equipped with aristocratic birth certificates. Should Ben Jones, for example, decide to saddle a Calumet Farm eligible, he would call on Trentonian, a son of Bull Lea, who already has sent out two Derby-winning sons—Citation and Hill Gail (1952). And if Honeys Alibi, a California-raced colt, should accept the issue he will get some fine support if only for the reason that his sire, Alibhai, also sired last year's Derby winner Determine. Noor, still a world record holder over classic distances, may be represented by Prince Noor. The 1947 Derby winner Jet Pilot has an eligible son in Racing Fool, half of an entry (with Flying Fury) of Harry F. Guggenheim's Cain Hoy Stable which turned the unturnable tables on undefeated Native Dancer in the Derby of 1953.
It was inevitable, of course, that some of the better 3-year-olds would not make it to the Downs starting gate. Some, such as Blue Ruler (another son of Nasrullah) and Roman Patrol, were beset by minor training pitfalls. Others had reasons of a different nature. Two Boston brothers, Paul and Frank Andolino, own a speed demon called Boston Doge. The colt has been accused by some of ducking a meeting with his top-rated contemporaries. At the same time he has been hailed as the most shrewdly managed horse in the country. The Andolinos are keeping him on a special program: sprints. They see no reason to send him a mile and a quarter under 126 pounds until he's ready—which may be never. Boston Doge likes his special program. He has lost only one of 11 races.
Another strong Derby contender dropped along the way was Saratoga. His trainer, Frank Bonsai, was perfectly frank to explain why: "We ran against Nashua twice in Florida and couldn't beat him. I'm not sure Saratoga belongs in a race with Nashua and Summer Tan."
THE WEST WILL CHALLENGE
Fortunately for the Derby, there are still a lot of owners and trainers willing to take a chance against the powerful champions of the East Coast. The West has a strong contender in Swaps, who has won all three of his 1955 races, including the Santa Anita Derby (SI, Feb. 28). In his most recent outing last week, he flirted with the Churchill Downs track record while winning a six-furlong dash by eight and a half lengths. But should Willie Shoemaker bring Swaps down in front on Saturday, it would mark only the second time in history (and first time since Morvich in 1922) that a California-bred horse has won.
Two other West Coast representatives, Honeys Alibi and the temperamental Jean's Joe, are dark horses. Jean's Joe is a son of Nasrullah quite unlike Nashua. It seems he loves to catch the leader, but is shy about passing him. In his first seven starts this year he won only one, but was never out of the money.
The Derby's real sleeper may be the Cain Hoy Stable entry of Flying Fury and Racing Fool who have been training for weeks in Kentucky. The last time the stable did this they did it with a colt named Dark Star—and he made their training program look awfully good on Derby Day of 1953.
The starting field is expected to number between 8 and 10, thus minimizing the chances or necessity for crowding and poor racing luck which has so often plagued Derby fields in the past. Actually Nashua's presence in the role of favorite may encourage the opposition to come out in stronger force than would have been the case had Summer Tan won the Wood in convincing fashion. Eddie Arcaro explains it this way: "If Summer Tan had won easily, everybody would have known that he was a speed horse few could hope to catch. But, with Nashua winning again by his usual close margin, these other guys figure they always have a chance—a chance, that is, that Nashua just might, the next time, miss out by the same close margin."
It is now seconds to post time. The field is warming up so far away that every pair of binoculars is raised to eye-level position. Standees strain forward in a fight to get an inch closer. The horses are led into the gate as the announcer heralds the approaching moment of decision. The betting has stopped. One wonders how 100,000 people can be so quiet, so intent—or so nervous.
The starter squeezes his hand on a charged switch. It springs open the gates and sets off a piercing bell. Another Derby field thunders away. This is what happens every year. It will happen again this Saturday.