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The strapping golden chestnut took the lead a few strides from the starting gate and simply kept on running. The first time past the stands he took a two-length lead into the clubhouse turn. Up the backstretch Summer Solstice made a run at him, then fell back. Parador made a run at him, and likewise fell back. Down at the eighth pole Traffic Judge made his run. It was a good one but up in front of him, aboard the chestnut, Jockey Willie Shoemaker, who had yet to use his whip, merely clucked a couple of times, waved the stick gently by the side of his mount's head and crossed the finish line winner by a comfortable length.
That was the way Swaps won the American Derby and $89,600 at Chicago's Washington Park last Saturday. After it was over and the time had been posted (1:54 3/5 for a mile and three-sixteenths over the grass course), everybody had something to say. Perhaps the most aptly correct statement came from a spectator near the winner's circle who, as Swaps was led in to face the usual bombardment from the cameras, turned and said with considerable amazement, "That horse ain't a horse! That's a machine!"
Shoemaker hopped off to pose with the cup and said, "We were a little tired at the end, but I still had a lot of horse left under me at the finish." As they prepared to leave the circle, Owner Rex Ellsworth, out of his familiar California bluejeans and looking uncomfortable in a gray, single-breasted suit, made the day's most exultant remark: "He runs so easy, one of these days we'll have to turn him loose."
His remark needed no clarification for any of the 25,178 fans on hand at Washington Park last Saturday. Nor for the millions who saw the race on television. Nor, in fact, for any race-minded American who has ever heard of this golden horse from the Golden West. The time and place that Ellsworth had in mind when he spoke of turning Swaps loose is the same track one day next week, Wednesday, Aug. 31. The occasion: the $100,000 winner-take-all meeting with Nashua in the most engrossing match race of a generation and, in the fair expectation of the world, one of the best races in history.
The build-up to the race has all the ingredients which instinctively appeal to the U.S.—an East-West rivalry, for one thing; a duel between a self-made owner-trainer combination ( Ellsworth and Trainer Meshach Tenney) and a wealthy Eastern sportsman ( William Woodward Jr.) who inherited a renowned racing stable, which in its first year under his direction produced the 2-year-old champion, Nashua.
NASHUA ON THE WAY
While Swaps last week was adding Chicago boosters to the millions of Californians who already believe him to be a second (if not greater) Man o' War, Nashua was still making his match-race preparations at Saratoga under the watchful eye of Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and under the skillful reinsmanship of his regular jockey, Eddie Arcaro. The big bay was due in Chicago on Aug. 26, aboard a private car attached to the New York Central's Pacemaker.
But for all the attention Nashua is getting in the East, the role of solid favorite unerringly belongs to the California wonder horse. Swaps has done everything asked of him with incredible ease: he has, without ever being pushed, broken or equalled two American or track records while winning eight races in 1955—from six furlongs to his mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby in which he dealt Nashua his only defeat of 1955. Swaps has won on the hard, fast tracks of California, won on the grass in his only try at it, won by coming from behind after some heady early rating by Shoemaker, won by taking the lead and holding it. He has won over older horses in world-record time and, from a California standpoint most important of all, has already trimmed Nashua in the Kentucky Derby. The next question Swaps must now answer is: can he beat Nashua again? If so, he is assured of the 12-month honor, Horse of the Year—and perhaps salutes greater and more lasting. It will all be settled in a few days now.
At Washington Park this week, as he goes back into training on the more familiar dirt footing of the main track, Swaps is hardly the object of pampering. "There's no way to tell a horse that he's got a big race to run," says Tenney. "The only thing you can do is to get him fit and give him lots of experience. Teach him to run straight and true and not to make any mistakes. He has his hay and grain and a good bed to sleep on. The same as with humans, anything else you give him may be detrimental."
The only concession to Swaps's comfort is an air-cooling machine in his stall—a convenience which Nashua likewise enjoys at Saratoga. His training schedule is varied, as Tenney prefers a casual approach which leaves him uncertain from day to day just what he'll require of the colt. Unlike Nashua, Swaps is fed only twice a day, each meal consisting of seven quarts of grain. One mixture has one third alfalfa and two thirds timothy hay, with a little molasses sprayed on. "It is chopped," says Tenney, "because you can save one third. Otherwise a horse will waste one bale of hay out of every three." The other mixture has oats, bran, kelp from the coast of Norway, de-worming powder and more molasses. His water is regular Chicago water because, adds Tenney, "he doesn't need special water any more than I do."