For the average man who follows the races in an average way it's a bonanza year if there is just one outstanding horse to watch and follow. Right now he has two, Nashua and Summer Tan, who will meet, if all goes well, in the 31st running of Jamaica's Wood Memorial this Saturday. The impact of that get-together will reverberate in Churchill Downs.
Fervent rivals last year, the two stars have not met as 3-year-olds. But the prospective meeting has caused as much excitement as if the Jamaica contest were the Kentucky Derby, and partisanship is as vehement as if the Giants and the Dodgers were involved.
Nashua, the Belmont Futurity winner, was named top 2-year-old of 1954. Summer Tan, however, after winning the Garden State, was assigned one pound more by New York Handicapper Jimmy Kilroe to head this spring's Experimental Free Handicap.
THE RECORD CLARIFIED
Should he look at the record, the racing tyro would need to have a few things clarified. He would see that Nashua has defeated Summer Tan three times while he was beaten only once by his rival. The novice would also learn that Nashua's total earnings are $402,340 against Summer Tan's $234,321. So he might well say, "What's all the shouting about?" But it's not that simple. The big question mark about 3-year-olds at pre-Derby time is: can they go a distance?
Summer Tan in all his races has shown a tendency to do just that. Nashua has also proved, particularly in the Flamingo and the Florida Derby, that while distance is no bugaboo to him he still has a habit of thinking a race won once he gets to the front and, if not urged, has a tendency to loaf.
The financial discrepancy between the two champions is more easily explained. Last fall after winning the Garden State, Summer Tan was stricken with an intestinal embolism and nearly died. He spent the winter recuperating in Florida and didn't race until this Jamaica meeting, where he made his first start as a 3-year-old and won by some 14 lengths. It was impressive even if there was nothing much behind him. For that matter there was nothing much behind Nashua in the Florida Derby, yet a very ordinary horse named Blue Lem gave him and Eddie Arcaro a few bad seconds in the stretch.
Both colts have the look of champions, although they are completely different types. Nashua is all massive power and strength. Summer Tan is all grace and elegance. And the similarities are as great as the differences. Both have foreign papas and American mothers; both were born under the sign of the Ram (if you pick horses astrologically)—Summer Tan on March 31 and Nashua on April 14. Both colts run without blinkers and both were born with silver spoons. Nashua is owned by William Woodward Jr., and Summer Tan eats his hay at Mrs. John W. Galbreath's barn. Both colts, too, have proved they can cope with an off track.
ARCARO AND GUERIN
Eddie Arcaro, who has piloted Nashua in all but two of his starts, has been suspended, so his mantle descends on Teddy Atkinson. With his hustling, punishing style he may get more out of the colt in the stretch.
Summer Tan will have Eric Guerin, who rode him in nine of his 12 starts, including the fabulous Garden State.
Although only six Wood Memorial winners have gone on to take the Kentucky Derby since the race was first run at Jamaica in 1925 (Assault in 1946 was the last), the Wood has always been regarded as New York's sneak preview of the Run for the Roses. This is particularly true this year. For it seems apparent that what happens at the Derby May 7 depends on what happens at Jamaica April 23.
Boston Doge kept his record straight and took the Governor's Gold Cup at Bowie, making it 10 in a row. He's been stabled for weeks at Laurel, and now at last the Andolino boys should give him his chance to go a distance in the Chesapeake this Saturday. The opposition is weak, with perhaps only Saratoga to beat.
California's Derby hopeful, Swaps, is headed for the Kentucky bluegrass. Keep in mind that the great Willie Shoemaker picked this horse to ride at Louisville.