Forty-eight hours before he won the race at Washington Park last week Nashua, the muscled-up bay challenger from the East, was led from Barn A around the infield's turf course to a position near the finish line which would—on the approaching Big Day—serve as a paddock in full view of all America.
By nature, Nashua is a very curious animal. As he walked before the stands in this unusual dress rehearsal for Wednesday's saddling procedure he stopped four times of his own accord. On each occasion, after a hasty survey of his surroundings, Nashua reared back like a frisky, unbroken yearling (see opposite page). Each time, of course, Groom Alfred Robertson got him back to earth but each time, as Robertson said, "He gave me the scare of my life. He was so full of it I thought he might go clear over backwards."
Hours afterward, with this unnerving public commotion dispensed with, Nashua's personal groom gave his thoughts another airing. "I'm glad he behaved the way he did out there. It shows one thing: he's not nervous, he's just on his toes. Look at him—he's as fit as hands can make him."
The hands that made him fit belonged to 81-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, the Belair Stud trainer, who spent the last days before the race shuffling back and forth between one end of Barn A and his living quarters at nearby Olympia Fields Country Club—sandwiching between trips a flood of radio and television appearances and more than one breakfast and luncheon press conference with newsmen on hand from California, New York, Florida and all stations along the way.
Some 21 stalls down the line from Nashua, the champion—so-called because he had decisively beaten Nashua in the Kentucky Derby—followed a similar routine for the final frantic days. Swaps and his owner-trainer combination of Rex Ellsworth and Meshach Tenney, together with an assortment of children and mascots (including a former Swaps rider from Hollywood named Margaret O'Brien), splashed through the mud of the stable area to make a TV show at 7 o'clock one morning. Following it, the entire group from California slogged through the mud again down to Mr. Fitz's command post. And, with Nashua looking sleepily out of his stall at cameras which he would have preferred to have aimed at him, the rival camps posed in a tidy semicircle around Ben Lindheimer, the racing director who had succeeded in bringing off the most exciting turf coup since the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race in 1938.
Ben Lindheimer hugged everyone within reach and happily proclaimed: "What I like most about this match race—aside from the fact that tomorrow we are going to see the two finest 3-year-olds in the country—is the wonderful spirit of good sportsmanship displayed by owners, trainers and jockeys. All people concerned have told me they are ready. Their horses are pronounced fit and no matter what are the track conditions, both sides have publicly stated their horse able to run over any surface—thus assuring all the awaiting world of a truly run horse race."
It made a nice prelude for events to come and everybody smiled again for the cameras. Then they all went off to a press lunch where Ben Lindheimer said, in effect, the same thing again and once more the room was wreathed with expressions of complete good cheer.
Getting up from lunch, Nashua's owner, William Woodward, put out a long arm and grabbed one of his employees: George Edward Arcaro. "There's sure a lot of compliments floating around this place," said Woodward. "When do you think they'll stop?"
Eddie Arcaro looked up at the young master of Belair Stud and gave his reply. "Boss, they'll stop the minute the bell goes, that's for damn sure."
Eddie, as nearly always, was right. The minute the bell went at 5:18 the next afternoon he was no longer the sports-coated celebrity at a clubhouse luncheon. He was a fighting, bellowing cavalryman. Ahead of him lay a mile and a quarter of combat terrain. Beyond that lay a check for $100,000—a tenth of it for the winning jockey, not to mention a gold cup for the mantel back home at Rockville Centre, N.Y. But more important than all this was the prestige which Eddie Arcaro had built up as the foremost race rider of his generation, the smartest, the trickiest, the headiest—and the hungriest when the heavy green bills are waiting to be picked up in the winner's circle.