For five of the six days of Preakness Week at Pimlico the skeptics were in the saddle. In the course of this drawn-out session they naturally settled all remaining disorder among the 3-year-old Thoroughbred division with the hasty conclusion that Derby winner Iron Liege would become the first colt since Citation (1948) to follow his Kentucky victory with a win in the Preakness. The odds, to be sure, were in their favor; for while Calumet's Iron Liege was training up to this important date in superb condition, his chief rival, Bold Ruler, was having fun by playing the role of the honor student suddenly aware that you don't have to be marked 100 to pass every exam. Bold Ruler, yes, won the Preakness Prep, but nobody thought much of his race. Some said he'd had too much racing. Some said his back was hurting him again. Some said he was overrated to begin with. And many others simply shrugged and said, in effect, what can you expect from a Nasrullah anyway—they run when they want to, but when you want them to run they're as likely as not to spit in your eye and double-cross you every time. That's what the skeptics said.
Then, on the sixth day of Preakness Week the other team took over. When they did, Bold Ruler, Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and Eddie Arcaro cleaned up. It was a slaughter.
Two hours before Preakness post time Arcaro had confided: "This track—with its tight turns and short home stretch—is made to order for a front-running horse. Most speed horses can carry their speed around a tight turn without any change of stride, and if they can hold the rail they can make it awful tough for any come-from-behind horse to get by 'em [in 14 of the past 18 Preaknesses the first horse rounding the final turn into the stretch went on to win]." Eddie looked solemnly down at his program. "You ought to be able to figure this race pretty well. In the first place there's seven of us in it, but Iron Liege is the only horse worth worrying about. He's in No. 4 post, I'm in 5 and Federal Hill is on the outside. Well, you know for a fact that Federal Hill is going to try and bust out of there and take the inside going into the first turn. You know Hartack's going to have Iron Liege up in second or third spot, and then these other guys [Arcaro's finger ran down past the names of jockeys riding Inswept, Promised Land, Nah Hiss and Inside Tract] are on come-from-behind colts who won't do much running during the first part of it anyway. So where does that leave me and Bold Ruler? It means I either try and rate him off Federal Hill—which is how I got Bold Ruler beaten in the Derby—or I run with him into the first turn and keep Federal Hill on my outside at all times. Ordinarily, I hate to go running after any sprinter, but Mr. Fitz and I talked the whole thing over and we both agree that the only thing I do this time is to run for it all the way and make the other horses come get you."
The considerable public sentiment in favor of Fitzsimmons and the colt he trains was demonstrated before the race in two ways—by the fact that until just before the race Bold Ruler was preferred in the betting over his Louisville conqueror, Iron Liege, and by the spontaneous wave of cheers which greeted the old man when he crossed the track on his way to the paddock. When he got there, he was concealing a couple of surprises up his sleeve.
First, as a precaution against a tendency to run out on the turns, he equipped Bold Ruler with a special set of blinkers, actually half cups with a slit in the back of each blinker. "Blinkers may stop him from running out," predicted Arcaro, "but I'm not sure they are so good for a horse with his special temperament. He loves to be challenged when he's in front, and just when another horse comes up and heads him he'll get going again. But when your horse is wearing blinkers you're never too sure of whether or not he sees his opposition coming. The danger is obvious: a horse could get to him—and by him—before he became aware that he really had to start running again. Mr. Fitz's blinkers for him are probably about right, though, and he'll be able to see just enough behind him to know if he's in trouble or not."
The other Fitzsimmons precaution was an innovation designed to alleviate some of the pressure on Bold Ruler's extremely tender and sensitive mouth. Acting on the theory that much of the colt's rankness stemmed from an understandable dislike of having Arcaro wrestle against a tender mouth, a light string was used to tie Bold Ruler's bit down to the lower part of the jaw. "What it meant," explained Arcaro afterward, "was that there was more pull on his jaw and less on his mouth."
The race itself—although run exactly the way Arcaro and Mr. Fitz had predicted it would be and with the full cooperation of a Bold Ruler who wanted to run and who was allowed to run—was nonetheless dramatically exciting until, with only an eighth of a mile to go, it became apparent that nobody could overhaul Bold Ruler. From the gate it was Federal Hill and Bold Ruler sprinting down past the stands together and into the first turn after a lickety-split :23 first quarter. Iron Liege lay back a comfortable two lengths off Federal Hill and the excitement up the backstretch was not so much in the wondering about whether or not the pace-setters would kill each other off (Bold Ruler covered the first half mile in :46 2/5 and the three quarters in 1:10 3/5) as it was in the speculation as to when! Iron Liege would, make his move and how effective it would be. Hartack, too, had this on his clever mind and at the three-eighths pole he decided it was time to pull out all stops. By now Federal Hill was finished, spent and falling back, but when Willie went to work on the Derby champion nothing happened. "I had a clear shot at him, but when I asked my horse to move he had nothing to give me. I can't explain it, but I felt at all times in this one that Bold Ruler had me over a barrel and there was nothing I could do about it."
With the Iron Liege threat over with, Bold Ruler had a comparatively easy trip the rest of the way. He covered the mile in 1:36 3/5 and made it to the wire in 1:56 1/5 (good time for the mile and three sixteenths, but almost two seconds slower than Nashua's track mark of 1:54 3/5 set in the 1955 Preakness just a few weeks after he too had been upset in the Kentucky Derby). Iron Liege, as a matter of fact, had trouble salvaging second place, and to do it he had to win a photo decision from the 54-to-1-shot Inside Tract. Behind them came Promised Land, Nah Hiss, Inswept and, finally, Federal Hill.
The buildup to any major race is, of course, always exciting, but it was doubly so before last week's 81st Preakness because it brought together not only the two best 3-year-olds in training but also in figures like Fitzsimmons, Arcaro, Jimmy Jones and Willie Hartack the dominating names of a season which grows more interesting with each passing week. The buildup churned into high gear the morning before the race when Trainer Jones, tired from a predawn commute down from Garden State Park, rolled his Cadillac up to the barn in the Pimlico stable area. Iron Liege, Bold Ruler and Federal Hill were all quartered in Barn J, and now, as Jimmy Jones walked slowly toward Iron Liege's stall, he suddenly became the target for a dozen or more reporters and other curious visitors who descended on him like a wave of kids who have just spied the Good Humor man. Jones looked about him for an instant. Bold Ruler was being walked under the shed by Exercise Boy Tommy Quinn. As they passed Iron Liege's stall the Derby champion looked out with an air of almost bored indifference. Bold Ruler played his part even better; he didn't even look at the champion. Jones, his face lined and showing the strain of hard work, smiled faintly. He spotted Mr. Fitzsimmons leaning against the other side of the barn and started over. "Jimmy," a man said to him, "how do you think the Preakness will be run tomorrow?" Jones stopped and took another knowing look at Bold Ruler, who was just passing Federal Hill's stall. Jones's expert eyes were studying Bold Ruler thoroughly. "How do I think it will be run?" he replied with a start. "I know how it'll be run. It'll be run like hell—that's how."