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This Gold Cup victory, which happened to be Arcaro's eighth, was something special. When Mrs. Sloane hustled down to the winner's circle to greet her winning team, she turned to Trainer Burch and exclaimed of Sword Dancer, "He's a dear little fellow."
"He certainly is," replied Burch, still shaking like a guy stuck in a Vic Tanny vibrator, "but I'm awfully glad he's retired for the year." Mrs. Sloane reached out to pump Arcaro's mud-crusted hand and asked, "What do you think of him now?"
"What do I think of him?" said Eddie. "He isn't a good horse; he's a great one. He does things that only champions do—like rate when you want him to, and move when you have to. If you were all scared that Hartack was going to steal it on Tudor Era, you shouldn't have been. Nobody steals a two-mile race like this against a horse like Sword Dancer. The only way you win a Gold Cup is to deserve it. And nobody deserved it more today."
The most intriguing aspect of the 41st Jockey Club Gold Cup—aside from the disappointing performance of Round Table, who gave Sword Dancer no trouble at all—was the pre-race question of which jockey was going to ride The Table in a race which Owner Travis M. Kerr admittedly felt was just about the most important in his horse's fabulous career. The confusion was not only awkward but unnecessary.
It all started when Kerr and Trainer Willie Molter felt they had a pretty sure rider in Willie Shoemaker, who had been Round Table's regular jockey. But Shoemaker, as everyone else around the race track seems to have known, had given a promise to C. V. Whitney to ride Tompion in the Garden State in New Jersey on the same day as the Gold Cup. For some reason—which even Kerr cannot explain—the Round Table camp felt so sure that Shoemaker would be aboard their horse and not Tompion that until the eleventh hour they had failed to find a substitute. And while Shoemaker and his agent Harry Silbert were indeed anxious to ride Round Table (the agents don't actually ride, but their language makes you think they do), they had a ready answer a month ago for anybody interested in their October 31 plans.
"We gave first call to Mr. Whitney in the Cowdin, the Champagne and the Garden State," said Silbert. "It's true that we'd like to ride Round Table, but right is right, and if Mr. Whitney wants to hold us to our promise we'll be at Garden State on the day." Mr. Whitney, naturally, did still want Willie Shoemaker.
The significance of this widely distributed message never flashed through to Travis Kerr until the last moment, and then there was frantic struggling to find another jock. The rumors were all over: Henry Moreno, Willie Harmatz, and finally Bill Hartack. On the morning of the Gold Cup Kerr himself tried to talk Hartack into accepting the mount—even though Hartack was almost sure to ride Tudor Era. Hartack said no. "We had a misunderstanding in the summer of 1958 in Chicago," Bill explained later, "and even if I could get it I don't want his money that bad. I've lost respect for Mr. Kerr, and frankly I wouldn't ride that man's horse if he gave me the whole pot."
Paul Bailey finally wound up with the ride on Round Table, and he did as well with it as Shoemaker, Hartack, Harmatz or Moreno would have—or even a combination of all four of them. A light drizzle for four hours before post time had not altered the track from fast, and both Kerr and Molter said they knew the track would not affect Round Table. Later, however, Bailey said he thought it probably had.
The real answer is that neither the jockey mixup nor the racing surface defeated Round Table. In the morning line of last Saturday's newspapers Round Table's jockey was listed as "No Boy." Well, with nothing on him that afternoon but an empty saddle he would have still been beaten—for the pure and simple reason that he was going against a real champion. Sword Dancer is one of the very, very best.