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Ever since Swaps extended his California nose across the Kentucky Derby finish line a length and a half ahead of Nashua's New York sniffer the air over U.S. race tracks has been crackling with all the ingredients of a noisy controversy. This is the year, you'll remember, that Nashua was to have become the first horse since Citation (1948) to win the Triple Crown (Derby, Preakness, Belmont).
So what happens? Well, here comes Swaps out of the West to knock that dream smack into the bottom of a julep beaker. Does this set Swaps up as the potential Triple Crown champion? No, it doesn't, because somewhere along the line Swaps's owner, Rex Ellsworth, neglected to pay up the sum total of $250 to nominate his horse for all three events. Ellsworth went, all right, for the $100 Derby nomination fee (to which he later added $1,500 to start Swaps), but some people would have you believe that a smart man like Rex Ellsworth and a smart man like his trainer, Meshach Tenney, simply forgot all about the other two events. And on top of Swaps's very fine Derby victory comes a mess of moaning and groaning that the Derby winner can't automatically be made eligible to the Preakness and to the Belmont—where his superiority might be proven once and for all.
The truth of the matter is that Swaps was never denied an opportunity to become a Triple Crown winner. Nominations for all three events closed the same day—February 15 of this year—and by that date the owners of some 191 3-year-olds had announced their intentions of running in one or more of the stakes—125 in the Derby, 152 in the Preakness and 118 in the Belmont. Seventy-eight colts were nominated for all three. Swaps was not one of them, despite the fact that his credentials as a 2-year-old included earnings of $20,950. At Pimlico, where they run off the Preakness on May 28, supplementary nominations at $7,500 each were being accepted until last Saturday. Swaps was not a supplementary nomination last Saturday. The Belmont Stakes does not accept supplementary nominations—even from California's leading breeder. Ellsworth, of course, knew this when he said the other day, "If we could get into the Belmont, we'd stay East for the Preakness too."
"It's high time," says a Belmont Park official, "that people stop treating us as though we alone are responsible for preventing another Swaps-Nashua race in the Belmont Stakes. If owners of some 118 horses each saw fit to put up $100 in nomination fees back in February, Ellsworth could have done the same thing if he'd wanted to race in the East. Anybody with a good 3-year-old is fully aware of the opportunities for his horse."
"I talked with Ellsworth at some length last winter at Santa Anita," says New York Racing Secretary and Handicapper Jimmy Kilroe (who performs the same duties at Santa Anita). "It was common knowledge that Ellsworth was pointing Swaps for the Kentucky Derby, but he never—even when he knew Swaps was a good colt—mentioned the possibility of nominating him for the Belmont."
All this pointed up to an obvious deduction: Ellsworth and Tenney took dead aim on the Derby alone. The other two races didn't matter. They did a superb job carrying off their program with a victory for Swaps. Now they have taken their horse, their winnings and their prestige back home. From the start the Triple Crown had lost—for them—much of the significance it once enjoyed. The Kentucky Derby alone retains its over-all prestige, but California racing for a Californian like Ellsworth (who has many other horses besides Swaps to consider) can offer overall higher purse opportunities to his stable than any other area in the country. So, why should Ellsworth take the trouble and spend the money to race in the East if he doesn't want to? How many of the big eastern stables go out to California to race?
None of this discussion, of course, is getting Swaps and Nashua any closer together. "Maybe," says Nashua's owner, William Woodward, "there should be a match race—provided, that is, both these colts continue to dominate their respective areas."
Between those two races there is just time for a match race—half way between East and West.
ANYONE FOR BEAGLES?