Were Ellsworth and Trainer Mish Tenney confident going into the match? "They were. Tenney was so sure he had it figured how far we'd beat Nashua. Two lengths was his call."
No one questions Swaps's great talents. But what is it that has caused one of the most spectacular inflationary spirals of horse judgment since the mad Caligula ordered his subjects to worship his favorite mount under pain of being laminated with pitch to illuminate his bacchanals?
Seen from here, the teletimer and the growing craze for speed on the American turf are the culprits. Yet these gods may be as false as Caligula's.
Sports fans have always been accustomed to rating the fastest humans and machines by the watch. The world's fastest plane and pilot? There is no dispute. The impartial tick of the watch points them out. The same goes for auto racing and power-boat racing.
Even in the field of foot racing and swimming the watch is the yardstick of performance. Any track fan worthy of his salt could pick 90% of the winners at a meeting using time as his guide.
Why, then, is horse racing an exception? Because there is no uniformity in the speed of running surfaces at various courses. In human racing, cinder tracks (given fractions here and there) are the same the world round.
The speed of horse tracks varies up to five seconds. The difference between a hard track and a deep, tiring one could easily be as much as 25 lengths. Running over one type is like a man running over a cinder course, and over the other is like sprinting on the loose sand of a beach.
The so-called pasteboard tracks such as those in California, where virtually all of the world's records are held, put the accent on speed. Chicago, Florida and New Jersey are headed in the same direction. Belmont Park and Saratoga are two of the last bastions of the slower tracks, where sheer speed takes second place to the properly relentless search for combined speed and stamina in the Thoroughbred.
Swaps had plenty of company smashing world records which should be more properly classified as track records. Count of Honor, Robert Lehman's newly minted 3-year-old threat, just recently ran one mile and a quarter in 1:59 2/5 at Hollywood Park. There has never been a Kentucky Derby winner or a 3-year-old anywhere to run that fast on the East Coast or on the grass in Europe. A 2-year-old named Lucky Mel recently set a world record at Hollywood Park, too. Was Count of Honor another Citation or Lucky Mel an incipient Native Dancer?
On June 23 when Swaps bashed in his own world mark for a mile and one sixteenth (1:39), other races on the same card attested to the zip of the track. In the first race that day a $4,500 plater named Breezing Bebe ran a mile and one quarter in 2:02 2/5, faster than 99% of the Kentucky Derbys and one full second swifter than Needles' winning time this year. On the same card a $12,500 plater named Flying Atlas was teletimed seven furlongs in 1:22. For close to 40 years, that record has stood at Belmont Park, set by the great sprinter Roseben.