THERE IS something very wonderful and heart-warming about the sport of Thoroughbred racing when a crowd of nearly 40,000 can bring itself to rise in spontaneous applause for a job well done. When it happened at Belmont last Saturday it proved that horse-players can be just as sentimental at heart as a white-tied audience rising either to salute the farewell performance of a noted conductor or to hail the first starring role of a youthful prodigy.
In a way the happenings at Belmont were unique in American turf history, for there may never have been a day before this beautiful clear blue afternoon when the center of attraction was so steadily focused on five singularly different individuals: two distinguished men and three royally bred race horses.
In the foreground stood Nashua, an old campaigner at 4 years of age, stepping haughtily before his audience for the 30th and last race of his career. Waiting patiently in the barn for the most severe test of his young life was another bay, darker than Nashua and smaller, too. His name: Bold Ruler (SI, May 14). Both were ridden by Eddie Arcaro, both were trained by 82-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons; and 600 miles away at Claiborne Farm, Paris, Ky. a 16-year-old stallion named Nasrullah (SI, Nov. 1, 1954) had good reason to bust out all over with pride. The reason: he was the sire of both Nashua and Bold Ruler, and of four other starters in two of the year's traditionally grueling tests for champions.
Before the running of the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup for 3-year-olds and upward, followed by The Futurity at six and a half furlongs down the Widener chute (for 2-year-olds only), you could sense the excitement. Not many people said it outright, but most of them felt like saying it: "It would be wonderful for Mr. Fitz if Nashua went out in a blaze of glory." A lot of them added, "Nicer yet if Bold Ruler won for him too."
Through all this contagious emotion Mr. Fitz sat quietly sunning himself outside the jockeys' quarters, while upstairs Arcaro breezed through a card game with Conn McCreary. "Both colts are as ready as they'll ever be," said Sunny Jim. "If they're beaten we'll have no excuses."
No excuses were needed last Saturday for Sunny Jim, Arcaro, Nashua or Bold Ruler. They all won everything within sight. Nashua went into his retirement (which will become official with a parade in the colors of Leslie B. Combs II at Keeneland this week) in a dramatic race in which he led nearly every step of the way to set a new track and American record of 3:20 2/5. Mister Gus, his conqueror in the Woodward two weeks ago, was fourth this time, trailing the 3-year-olds, Riley and Third Brother.
Half an hour later Arcaro was back at it again, now in the yellow and purple silks of Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps's Wheatley Stable. Bold Ruler, winner of six of his seven previous starts (his only loss being to Nashville after more than a three-month layoff) was, as Arcaro put it, "suddenly a different colt than I'd ever known him. He's usually bad at the gate and fidgety getting to it. Today he was loose and limber as a dishrag on the way up and then perfectly behaved at the start." With him in the gate were most of the best youngsters still in training—among them Nashville.
A little over a minute later (1:15 1/5 to be exact) Bold Ruler had made them all look vastly inferior as he went across the finish two and a quarter lengths in front of Greek Game, with Amarullah, Iron Liege and Cohoes trailing. Nashville, said his jockey, Ismael Valenzuela, "gave it a run for five-eighths, then gave up."
Bold Ruler now stands alone at the top of the 2-year-old division even though he has yet to meet such present New Jersey residents as Calumet's undefeated Barbizon, California Kid and Prince Khaled—all of whom may turn up to challenge him in The Garden State on October 27. "I wouldn't want to start comparing him to Nashua yet," says Arcaro, "but one difference between the two is that when you move on Bold Ruler he'll go by and beat anything up front. Like he likes to win and doesn't have to be driven to it."
This day of achievement and glory, for all the fame it brought to Bold Ruler, nonetheless still belonged to Nashua—for the last time. His record of earning $1,288,565 through 22 wins in 30 starts will—in this day of inflationary purses—undoubtedly be broken. I don't think I could express a better farewell to a horse or estimate his value as a good-will ambassador for racing any more appropriately than by quoting Eddie Arcaro once more: "Nashua went out big. He was a credit to the sport."