If you believe what you read in the sports pages...brother, this country is about to be bent out of shape. Yes sir, Civil War II is cooking, and the geography of fratricide is veering 90� from the fight between North and South. This time East and West are growling into each other's lapels.
The cause of it all is a familiar pair of 4-year-old colts. Swaps, a long, red California Thoroughbred of extraordinary speed, holder of five world's records. And Nashua from the East, a bull-like animal whose heart and legs have the timbre of a blacksmith's anvil.
The matter of superiority between them was thought to be settled on a fairly valid basis last summer. The memorable match race at Washington Park appeared to have done that. For about 24 hours, that is. The next morning stories broke that Swaps, who raced on a tender foot throughout his 3-year-old career—and, for that matter, still does—had emerged from his defeat stomping around like Long John Silver.
Since that time Nashua has become the world's leading money earner and has been coldly evaluated by eastern horsemen. Although there have been no noises about dispossessing Man o' War of his niche in the National Museum of Racing at Saratoga, there has been across-the-board agreement that the son of Nasrullah is a truly iron colt; in that respect, perhaps without equal since the great Exterminator. Unlike Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Count Fleet and Citation, the big-haunched colt has never been lame, missed a race or passed up an oat in his bucket throughout his career. Here indeed has been the infantryman of race horses.
"Look at him," said an admiring Eddie Arcaro in the paddock one day. "Just look at those legs. Clean and hard as a ball bat."
With Swaps it has been somewhat different. Months after the match race, the Khaled colt was the central and mute figure in one of the quickest recoveries from hoof and mouth disease on record. Swaps's foot ceased to be a problem as mainsprings in stop watches went "boing" and his host of admirers recovered their voices.
In fact, the reporting of Swaps's California performances came to be pitched on a new high key of evangelistic fervor. His superiority over Nashua no longer appeared to be an issue. The sensational undefeated Italian colt, Ribot, with his modest claims to being champion of Europe after 14 straight victories, was ignored. Unblushingly, Swaps has been trumpeted as the "greatest" and "fastest" of all time.
Following Swaps's mile-and-five-eighths canter to a new world's record in the Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park, Rex Ellsworth was quoted as expressing sorrow that the match race ever took place. That Swaps was lame the morning before.
This came as a surprise to reporters. There had, indeed, been rumors before the race, but the afternoon before the match, Ellsworth disowned the reports. "Swaps is as good as he ever was," was his exact quote.
This writer also had a talk with Willie Shoemaker last winter. Maybe it was the Florida sunshine that warmed up Willie's distaste for conversation.