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Original Issue


In the unpredictable sport of horse racing, 1954's big news has been made by an Aga Khan castoff and a remarkable 80-year-old trainer. Together, Nasrullah and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons are enjoying some of turfdom's greatest success

The two-year-old bay colt pictured on the opposite page during a morning workout may someday succeed Native Dancer as a great American thoroughbred racing champion. His name is Nashua. A mild case of colic (which knocked out the week of training scheduled to prepare him for The Garden State) last week forced his retirement for the season. Nashua, nevertheless, starts his rest cure with a brilliant record of six victories in eight starts. An even more brilliant future beckons the colt next season when he seeks further honors in the three-year-old classics, including the triple crown: Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Should Nashua eventually attain turf greatness, his owner, William Woodward, will, like any successful owner, be thankful for exceptionally good racing luck. Moreover, he will be able to pin-point most of the credit where it is due. Nashua has the earmarks of a champion because 1) he is a son of a remarkable 14-year-old stallion named Nasrullah, and 2) Woodward's Belair Stud is most capably trained by a lovable 80-year-old gentleman, who, after half a century as a horse trainer has discovered that racing success and fashionable old age can form a fine combination. His name is James E. (for Edward) Fitzsimmons.

Nasrullah and Mr. Fitz (horsemen also call Fitzsimmons "Sunny Jim," just plain "Fitz," or the "Dean of American Trainers") have little in common—with one exception. Both are virtually at the top in their fields; Nasrullah because he has, after a relatively short career at the stud, stamped himself as a distinguished sire (14 of his first U.S. crop have already won), and Mr. Fitz, because the year 1954 has been his best ever: 87 winners, 17 stakes victories and $874,357 earned in purses. (In addition to Belair Stud horses, Mr. Fitz trains for Mrs. Whitney Stone, Ogden Phipps and the Wheatley Stables owned by Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps.)

The personal relationship between Nasrullah and Mr. Fitz extends no further than a vague meeting between the two when Nasrullah was brought to America in 1950. If Nasrullah has a retentive memory for faces, he possibly recalls the meeting. Mr. Fitz doesn't. "I may have seen him when he came off the boat," he says. "But I knew he was a good sire then. He's certainly one of the best now." Experts usually hesitate to judge a stallion's position in the unpredictable science of race-horse breeding. In Nasrullah's case, however, the verdict is almost unanimous: he's amazing. After a decade at the stud, first in England, then Ireland and finally in this country, he has ranked as one of the top sires since 1949. In England he led the sire list in 1951, was second in 1952 and 1953. This year he is No. 2 in England again (behind Hyperion), America's leading sire of two-year-olds. With his first American crop (including Nashua) in competition, Nasrullah is already in fifth position among all sires in North America—trailing only such proven stallions as Heliopolis, Alibhai, Revoked and Bull Lea in earnings. At the spring yearling sales at Keeneland, a Nasrullah colt out of Lurline B. was sold for $86,000 (SI, Aug. 23)—a record for U.S. yearling auction history.

A son of Nearco (who was unbeaten in 14 starts) out of a Blenheim II mare, Nasrullah has been in the limelight since he was foaled at the Aga Khan's farm in County Kildare, Ireland in 1940. Even under the handling of jockey Sir Gordon Richards, Nasrullah demonstrated an unruly temperament (which he still has) during his English racing career. "He was very, very difficult to ride," says Richards, who blamed part of Nasrullah's irritability on racing's wartime restrictions which forced many horses to compete at one track for such a long time that they literally became bored with the whole business. Bored or not, Nasrullah finished his only two racing seasons with five wins in 10 starts and winnings of $15,263. The Aga Khan, however, was in doubt about retaining a "difficult" horse despite Nasrullah's classic distance breeding which marked him as a potentially fine sire. Then Joseph McGrath, an Irish breeder, offered a reported $50,000 for Nasrullah. The Aga Khan bid his unruly colt farewell. "It may have been," says Kentucky breeder Dr. Eslie Asbury, "the only major mistake the Aga Khan ever made."


The transaction was clearly no mistake for Irishman McGrath. During six years at his Brownstone Stud at Curragh, Nasrullah's fame started to grow. Out of his first crop (in 1945) came Nathoo, Golestan and the amazing Noor who, while racing in the U.S. in 1950, hung four straight defeats on Citation. A year before the Noor-Citation rivalry made Americans Nasrullah-conscious, McGrath had been approached by an American syndicate headed by Arthur B. (Bull) Hancock Jr. Their goal: to bring Nasrullah to the U.S. The price: $369,000. Why would McGrath ever allow his prize stallion to get away? "There were really two answers to that," says Hancock. "First, it had become fashionable for European owners to sell top stallions to this country because they knew we could pay top prices. Secondly, stud fees and purses are generally far lower in Europe than here. In Ireland, Nasrullah was standing for a fee of $1,120 (compared to $5,000 fee now for such desirable stallions standing in the U.S. as Bull Lea, Mahmoud, Heliopolis—and Nasrullah for those not in the 14-man syndicate, who automatically try to keep his book full for each of the 34 annual available services). McGrath could see immediately that he would have to breed Nasrullah to an amazing number of mares in order to realize the kind of profit we were offering him in one fell swoop."

McGrath, like the Aga Khan before him, sold—and Nasrullah crossed the Atlantic in 1950. It was the first time that one of the first three stallions on the English sire list was imported to the U.S. Since then he has achieved further stature as one of only five horses in history to sire winners of the five English classics: Never Say Die won two of them this year: the English Derby and St. Leger. Nasrullah's other big U.S. 1954 winner besides Nashua is Delta, a good bet to be crowned queen of the juvenile fillies.

If Nasrullah's record as a sire of stakes winners is approaching the remarkable, the achievements of Mr. Fitz as a trainer are even more noteworthy. Since saddling his first winner in 1900, he has seen colors of his employers flash home first 1,838 times to earn the staggering sum of $7,028,608. Today Mr. Fitz recalls much to stir up sentimental memories among people who believe, as he does, that life around the race track is about as satisfactory a life as man could dream for. "It takes more than money or brains to hit racing's jackpot," says Mr. Fitz with typical modesty. "It's still 75% luck—having the right horses and the right bosses. The trainer is important only in that he must have sense enough to develop the good qualities in a horse, not kill them."

Developing the good in horses is a Fitzsimmons trade-mark. He won't, however, rate his best performers in any order except by ages. He thinks Dice was his best two-year-old (of Nashua he says, with some reservation, "He is probably the best around, but he can't make many mistakes and beat the others"), Gallant Fox his top three-year-old and Diavolo tops in the handicap division. The best horse he ever saw? "I think it was Exterminator—he could do everything." The races he remembers most vividly? "Gallant Fox winning the Belmont and Man o' War's lone defeat—by Upset in the Sanford Memorial Stakes of 1919. It was one of the few times in my life I ever bet $100. I bet on Man o' War."

The luck which Mr. Fitz says plays such a vital role in racing also played, it seems, an even more vital role in his own career. After a few frustrating seasons as an 85-pound jockey around the eastern tracks in the 1890s, young Fitz was hustling for rides and eating money with steadily diminishing success. His mother-in-law stepped into the picture in 1900 and told the lean youngster that she had arranged a steady job for him as a motorman on a Philadelphia trolley. "You don't think," says Fitz today, "that I would have lived 80 years by driving one of those things, do you?" On the day he was scheduled to report for his first run, he chanced to meet a friend, Hugh Hodges, who was then training for Colonel Edward deV. Morrell. Hodges offered the young man a job, and from then on horses—not trolleys—were again the center of Fitz's life. The start with Hodges led slowly to an association as a trainer with such racing figures as John Moran, Joseph E. Davis, Herbert L. Pratt, Howard Maxwell and eventually to the successful alliance made with the Phipps and Woodward families.

Nasrullah and Mr. Fitz today live over 600 miles apart, Nasrullah at Hancock's 2,200-acre Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., Fitzsimmons in a two-story, six-room house in Long Island's Ozone Park. Except for the hope that more of Nasrullah's offspring will come to him for training, there is no bond between the two. At Claiborne, Nasrullah lives, as always, like a king—or an Aga Khan. One of 12 active stallions on the place, he shares a concrete and hollow-tile stallion barn with five other horses. In the same barn are Dark Star, Ambiorix, Princequillo, Hill Prince and Turn-To. From 7 to 11 each morning he is turned out in his own private paddock, and spends the rest of the time (except during the February to June breeding season) eating and sleeping—and being paraded out for visitors. "He's actually a pretty spoiled horse," says Hancock. "If visitors want to look at another stallion first, he'll kick up a hell of a fuss in his stall as if to say, 'There's no point in looking at those bums when you can look at me.' In a way perhaps he's right. I think he's the grandest looking horse I ever saw."

Mr. Fitz has no similar necessity to be regarded as No. 1 in his field. Visitors find him cheery and courteous at the training barns, the race track or in the parlor at Ozone Park, ready to talk horses in the manner of a man still looking for his first win. His day is a busy one. Up at 5:30 to supervise the morning workouts, a short midmorning nap, a full afternoon at the track and several evening hours looking at "that damn machine that keeps me up too late" (his favorite programs: Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan). A nonsmoker, Fitz will share an occasional sherry or rum cocktail with guests, spends lots of time puttering around the kitchen or caring for his back-yard rose garden. When he drives home in his 1953 Pontiac, which he handles cautiously and well within speed limits, a few youngsters usually greet him at the walk to inquire about his day's racing success. One afternoon recently a youngster, after escorting him to his front door, confided to a friend, "I have no grandfather, so I pretend Mr. Fitz is my grandfather. He's my idea of one."



*NASRULLAH...(B.h., 1940)

Nearco, 1935
Mumtaz Begum, 1932

*Blenheim II
Mumtaz Mahal

Scapa Flow
Havresac II
The Tetrarch
Lady Josephine

Hors Concours
Charles O'Malley
Wild Arum
Roi Herode
Americus Girl

Maid Marian
St. Simon
Canterbury Pilgrim
Love Wisely
St. Simon
Maid of the Mint
*The Sailor Prince
John o' Gaunt
Canterbury Pilgrim
White Eagle
Black Cherry
Goody Two-Shoes
Robert le Diable
Le Samaritain
Bona Vista

Male line (E) Eclipse
Thence back to the Old Vintner mare. No. 9 Family
*Imported thoroughbred