Under Arcaro at 5:18 last Wednesday was Nashua, about whom Mr. Fitz had said only minutes before, "If he can't do it today he'll never be able to." And beside this pair who were fighting to regain prestige for their Kentucky Derby loss was another treasure-hunting tandem. Swaps, the miracle horse from California, had overcome an early-winter injury to his right forefoot to topple world and track records with such amazing ease that his countrymen were already calling him the equal of Man o' War. Aboard Swaps was tiny, 95-pound Willie Shoemaker, already a legend west of the Rockies, already a respected rider destined—someday—for the greatness Arcaro enjoys today.
Before the two horses had paraded to the starting gate—where Nashua would enter the second stall and Swaps the fourth—both contestants saddled in the infield near the blinking tote board, which reflected from time to time the opinion of some 36,000 witnesses that if Swaps had beaten Nashua once he would surely do it a second time. As the bright sun cast its light on a paddock overloaded with newsmen, photographers, friends of the families—and the combatants themselves—the tension of the last few months started toward its climax. Nashua, sheltered from the surging mob by his lead pony, Francis, looked unworried, Swaps was more fidgety. He doesn't usually kick up a fuss while being saddled.
The jocks legged up, and a path to the main track was cleared. As each horse made his way to the battlefield the stands gave him a salute. The television people began picking up their gear and, almost unnoticed in the commotion, Woodward walked hurriedly to where Ellsworth was standing. " Mr. Ellsworth," he said, "I would like to wish you the very best of luck."
"That's very nice of you," replied Ellsworth, "and may I say the very same to you."
"All I hope," said Woodward, "is that both horses give their very best."
Rex Ellsworth shot a glance up the track where Swaps was now going quietly toward the gate and then made a final comment: "And so do I."
The great match race of the generation was—for all purposes of evaluation—over at the start. The old master, Arcaro, got the jump on the young master, Shoemaker, and never gave him a chance. The crowd (and most of the 100 or more visiting turf writers) expected Swaps to break on the lead, with Eddie tailing him until he was ready for one big decisive move. Eddie and the Belair Stud board of strategy figured their own plan: run from the jump and don't ease up until one horse cracks. "My orders," said Woodward, "were, 'Go to the front if possible—but forget the if possible.' "
Arcaro knew what the orders meant. With whip raised as the gate sprung, he lit into Nashua with the violence of a pneumatic drill. His openmouthed battle cry, screamed out into the ears of the gate crew with the violence of a banzai, drifted toward the stands as the wail of ohs and ahs blended for a few seconds with the sound of digging hoofs the first time around.
But Arcaro did more than break on top. He broke smartly. At Washington Park last Wednesday there were two good running surfaces on a track which both jockeys rated at least one second off. One good running strip led out from stall No. 3, the next true surface ran out from stall No. 5, and between the two lay an unfirm footing of mud. When Arcaro brought Nashua out he made immediately for the closer lane. Shoemaker made for it too but, after drawing close to Nashua for a split second, he was forced to draw to the outside for unobstructed running. That's where Arcaro wanted Shoemaker. That's where Arcaro kept Shoemaker. Into the clubhouse turn they went, Eddie staying wide and forcing Swaps even wider. Shoe made the first of three runs at Nashua, but Eddie was having none of it. Into the backstretch Willie tried again, but Nashua was running swiftly now, smoothly—the way he has run when he really wants to win. At the top of the backstretch, with the pair running still a length or less apart in one of the most stirring duels ever seen between two champions, Shoemaker gave it the final all-out try. When he did, Nashua drew out to a length-and-a-half margin, "When we came to the quarter pole," said Eddie, "I knew I had won."
"So did I know it," said Shoemaker, after bringing Swaps home six-and-a-half lengths behind the challenger.