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It was the opening day of Hialeah's 40-day meeting, and 25,033 people had come out in perfect weather to shove $1,856,462 through the mutuel wickets, to watch a colony of flamingos in lazy flight above the infield lakes and to listen to the University of Miami band as it oompah-pahed on the bright green turf course in front of the infield tote board.
Down on the asphalt lawn in front of the grandstand an elderly groom began a reverent, unprepared monologue of his own as Sword Dancer, Horse of the Year of 1959, moved toward the winner's circle to receive a plaque commemorating his excellences of last year. "Mr. Swooord Danca!" the groom began, "Mr. Swooord Danca! Winna of Woodward and Belmont; Travers and Gold Cup. Twice the defeater of ole moneybags, Round Table. Mr. Swooord Danca! The hoss what breaks other hosses' hearts."
This Saturday the 4-year-old Sword Dancer makes his first major start of the year in the $100,000 mile-and-one-quarter Widener Handicap at Hialeah, one of the most important races of the winter season. When he and his rider, Eddie Arcaro, are locked in the starting gate the attention of over 30,000 at the track and millions of others who will watch the race on television will be focused directly upon them. The more knowledgeable racing fans will have three points in mind, to wit:
1) Until now, only Challedon and Whirlaway have been Horse of the Year in both their 3-year-old and 4-year-old seasons. Off his handicap record last year (he was both 3-year-old champion and handicap champion, and only one other horse, Citation, ever held that double distinction), Sword Dancer is considered to have an excellent chance to become Horse of the Year again in 1960. The Widener is the perfect race in which to begin his bid.
2) In the previous 22 runnings of the Widener only one 4-year-old has ever carried as much weight (129 pounds) as Sword Dancer is being asked to carry in this one. (The other was War Admiral, who won in 1938 under 130.)
3) Just three weeks ago Sword Dancer ran a prep for the Widener and finished a disappointing fourth to a moderate field, causing some to wonder if he had lost 1959's competitive zip.
In the old days, of course, a horse was a horse; today a horse seems to be judged on what numbers he is able to project onto the tote board or just how high he is able to pile his bankroll. A few animals transcend these areas of judgment and their names find their way onto the tongues of people not normally associated with or deeply interested in horse racing. Man o' War, Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Citation, Whirlaway and War Admiral all did this by meeting and defeating the best of their contemporaries under different weights and at different distances. There are many who see a similar potential in Sword Dancer. At the end of last season Sword Dancer was the best-known horse in America. His earnings were $597,535, 17th on the alltime money-winning list. Beginning with the Widener, he will have every opportunity to bring forth his potential and, if he is able to keep winning in the months ahead, acquire the eminence of a household word.
THOSE BEHIND HIM
Behind Sword Dancer are three very important people: Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane, the owner of Brookmeade Stable, Preston M. Burch, the 75-year-old general manager of Brookmeade and his son, 35-year-old John Elliott Burch, Sword Dancer's trainer (see cover).
Mrs. Sloane has long been one of the most famous women in American racing, which she entered in the early 1920s. In 1934 she became the first woman ever to top the owners' money-winning list. The stable again led all owners in 1950.