Arcaro took hold of Whirlaway early in the race and kept the colt moving along in a high gallop. Swinging into the clubhouse turn, he was eighth in the field of 11. When Arcaro called on him to run rounding the far turn, Whirlaway took off. Arcaro recalls, "A clocker told me, 'That horse did something I've never ever seen a horse do—or thought a horse could do. He ran an eighth of a mile in a little over 10 seconds.' "
Whirlaway, fourth after a mile, flew down the stretch, his long, thick tail streaming behind him. His final quarter time of 23[3/5] seconds was only [2/5] slower than Secretariat's remarkable Derby effort in 1973. After crossing the finish line, Arcaro looked back over his right shoulder. His nearest opponent, Staretor, was a full eight lengths back. Whirlaway's time of 2:01[2/5] for the mile and a quarter was a Derby record that stood until Decidedly's 2:00[2/5] in 1962.
"He was the runningest son of a bitch I ever sat on," Arcaro said in the jockeys' room afterward. "I wouldn't say the best, but the runningest."
On May 10, a week after the Derby, Arcaro guided Whirlaway to victory in the Preakness in similar come-from-behind fashion, charging from last in the field of eight to win by 5� lengths.
By June 7, the Belmont field had dwindled to four horses. The only hope for the other three horses, it seemed, was a slow pace. "I knew they were in a plot against him—of course, you would know that," Arcaro says. "I told my wife going to the racetrack that day, 'If they don't run the first half mile better than 49 seconds, I'm gonna let him go to the front. I can't hold him slower than that.' "
Itabo led the field through the first half mile in 49[4/5] seconds, and Arcaro, turning to the other two riders in the race, said, "The hell with this, fellas, I'm leaving." He moved his horse to the lead, opening up at least seven lengths.
"But he was a drunk dude. I could have outrun him myself from about the eighth pole home," Arcaro says. "He was just a mixed-up kid, really." The wobbly Whirlaway won by 2� lengths.
Despite Whirlaway's Triple Crown and successive Horse of the Year honors, Arcaro and Jimmy Jones refuse to put the stamp of greatness on him. "I don't think any horse is great that has the idiosyncrasies he had," Arcaro says.
Charles Hatton, the late Daily Racing Form columnist, once wrote: "Whirlaway never really cared to be a racehorse. We never thought he had too much heart, as he would try to run out into the parking lot if a horse hooked him."
"Whirlaway had several things lacking in him," says Jimmy Jones. "He was not dead game. If a horse would run with him a ways, he could kinda knock him out a little bit. He had a tendency to give up."