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Sport: Tactical Exercise

2 minute read

When Nashua, the favorite, lost the Kentucky Derby to Swaps last May, Nashua’s ancient (81) trainer. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. admitted that he and Jockey Eddie Arcaro had used the wrong tactics: “We held back. By the time we tried to catch Swaps, it was too late.” Last week, before the $100,000 winner-take-all match race at Chicago’s Washington Park, most of the 35,000 spectators figured that Nashua could not catch Swaps this time either. Favored at 3-10, Swaps, unbeaten this year, had broken or tied three track records since the Derby. The amateur tacticians guessed Swaps’s jockey, Willie Shoemaker, would lead the California colt out early, force Arcaro to make a last-second bid in the stretch. But Eddie Arcaro had his own plan: break out on top and stay there.

The two horses shot out of the starting gate for the 1¼-mile race. The crowd let out a roar as Arcaro whipped Nashua hard: within seconds the big bay horse spurted ahead, close to the rail. As Nashua shot forward, Swaps first veered to the outside, then tried to close. The crowd waited confidently for Swaps to make his move. Twice, coming into the backstretch and approaching the far turn, Jockey Shoemaker tried to move up on the outside; each time Arcaro whacked his mount and pulled away, holding the inside track. Coming down the long (1,531 ft.) homestretch, Shoemaker finally used the whip, but Swaps had no more to give. Arcaro, furiously cross-whipping, drove Nashua across the finish line, ahead by a good 6½ lengths.

As Owner Rex Ellsworth pointed out, Swaps never reached top speed; a flared-up foot injury might have caused a slowdown. The injury will require surgery; Swaps will probably be out of racing until December. But Swaps’s misfortunes did not dim Nashua’s victory, which raised his earnings for Owner William Woodward Jr. to $882,565. Said triumphant Old Master Arcaro, who had ridden one of the shrewdest races of his 24 years in the saddle: “Nashua did everything that Mr. Fitz and I planned for him.”

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