Down the long new Aqueduct stretch they streaked in a blistering :24 2/5 final quarter. Hillsdale was on the outside, his 3-year-old challenger, Sword Dancer, close on the rail, and the one was as magnificent in defeat as the other was brilliant in victory. The sight of the two of them straining, digging and fighting that last quarter of a mile was a spectacle no one in the crowd of 53,290 will ever forget.
And when Brookmeade Stable's Sword Dancer finally won the mile-and-a-quarter weight-for-age Woodward Stakes by a scant head, the huge throng rose in a roaring tribute to the valiant colt, to Jockey Eddie Arcaro, to Trainer Elliott Burch and to Owner Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane. They stood in salute, too, to everyone who had contributed to make this heralded race of the year possible. It was an occasion when eastern and western racing met in a spirit of sportsmanship, and although the easterner, Sword Dancer, won, there was an overwhelming feeling that seldom has racing ever experienced a more glorious moment. For this was a real championship.
The story of the Woodward is essentially one of basic tactics and racing generalship. It clearly brings to mind something Arcaro once wrote in these pages (The Art of Race Riding, SI, June 17, 1957, et seq.): "The fastest horse, perfectly true, should win. But his speed alone won't get him the money. His speed—together with his jock's judgment—can.... I believe that 80% of the time the outcome of a race depends on the individual thinking on the part of the jockey on the best horse."
The best horse in the Woodward may have been Sword Dancer; or it may have been Hillsdale. The difference between Arcaro's ride on the former and young Tommy Barrow's on the latter could have spelled the difference between winning or losing.
Everyone figured, and rightly so, that none of the quartet would want to set out a fast pace. "I didn't want the pace," said Willie Shoemaker, who rode Round Table. "Being outside of Hillsdale I figured I'd lay just off him and force him on the lead."
"I didn't much want the lead, either," said Barrow, "but I got stuck with it. I didn't mind too much, though, because we all rated back and were going nice and easy."
"Nice and easy," laughed Arcaro. "We all knew this was going to be a plain gallop for the first three quarters and that the only running would come in the last quarter. When I started doping this race out I told Burch that maybe the way to win was to make a front-running race of it."
"I didn't agree with Eddie on this strategy," added Burch, "and after consulting with my father, Preston, we decided against it. The plan to run on the front end would have been suicide. First one of those other two would have made a run at us, then the other, and by the time we turned for home we'd have had nothing left."
THE FINAL STRATEGY
"What Elliott also told me—and thank goodness he did—" interrupted Arcaro, "was that if you take back on him nice and gentle-like, Sword Dancer will rate real good. If you can rate him back in the third slot, Burch told me, Hillsdale and Round Table can have a race of their own up front, and your horse, who has one real powerful run in him, will be fresh when you reach the stretch."