When swaps went off to California after showing the best horses in the East how to win the Derby, he did more than disappoint a lot of racing fans who would have liked to see more of him. He fixed the triple crown for this year and made the Preakness, pride of Maryland, just another fairly interesting high-stakes race. Subsequent events hurt it still more. First Mrs. John W. Galbreath decided Summer Tan was not in shape to run this weekend; then Dedicate, the Jersey Stakes winner, was taken out of the running by his owner, Jan Burke. Thus Pimlico's Preakness, generally considered a good deal more than just a sandwich filling between the Derby and the Belmont Stakes, this year becomes a sandwich of a somewhat watery order.
And more's the pity too. The Preakness has a fine tradition, dating back to 1873. To Maryland, a state famed for good horses and good horsemen, it has more significance than either of the other two events of the triple crown. The race is named for M. H. Sanford's Kentucky-bed horse who won the old Dinner Party Stakes in 1870 at the then brand-new Pimlico track. Sanford sold the colt to the Duke of Hamilton, who put him to stud. But Preakness proved intractable and the Duke finally had him shot. The present race is his memorial, for his death led to new international rules of humane treatment for horses.
This year it is a memorial with more money than glory. Nashua stands an excellent chance of picking up the winner's share of the cash ($70,000, plus), but it will be a hollow victory. His closest rival would seem to be Montpelier Farm's (Mrs. M. DuPont Scott) Saratoga, who passed up the Derby because his people didn't want him to run against the colt everyone thought would be a triple-crowner. Saratoga was second to Nashua in the Flamingo. He won the Chesapeake and then was beaten by Dedicate in the Jersey Stakes in record time. A money possibility may be Clifford Mooers's Withers' winner, Traffic Judge, who is certainly improving.
Among other possible starters of the 152 nominated last Feb. 15 is W-L Ranch's Honeys Alibi (seventh in the Derby), proving that not all California horses flout the Preakness. (Correlation was odds-on choice last year.) Nance's Lad, who beat the undefeated Boston Doge and who ran second in last week's Withers, will try for the blanket of black-eyed Susans which traditionally drapes the Preakness victor. And Sailor, winner of the Toboggan at Belmont, may be a threat because his trainer, Preston Burch, has pulled them out of a hat before. Remember Bold in 1951. But from here it is impossible to take the race away from Nashua.
One thing is sure, however, On May 28, when the band plays Maryland, My Maryland as the horses parade to the post for the 79th running of the mile-and-3/16 classic, the new Clubhouse will be filled with Free Staters who still believe, rightly or wrongly, that if a horse wins the Preakness he has a touch of greatness. It is impossible for them to understand the chauvinism, if that's what it is, which has prompted two California owners in a row to whisk their Kentucky Derby winners home without so much as a flick of their hoofs at either the Preakness or the Belmont. And they have a point: it would certainly be better for the sport if, instead of looking on the triple crown as an Eastern foible, the Californians would unite with the East to make one world of American racing. Maybe the triple crown needs a Matt Winn to ballyhoo it.
Meanwhile, June is about to bust out all over the race tracks. Delaware Park opens May 28 with the Wilmington Handicap. Chicago's brand-new Balmoral Jockey Club is in the midst of its inaugural meeting at Washington Park and the Citation Handicap, first of three $50,000 stakes, celebrates Memorial Day. Monmouth Park, on the Jersey coast, starts its 50-day whirl June 11 with a schedule of 20 stakes, beginning with the Oceanport. The Monmouth 'Cap July 23 has been upped to $75,000.
Up in New England, summer is acomin' in at Narragansett Park with a 24-day meeting starting June 6. High point is the Providence Stakes June 22.
Belmont, of course, holds the center of the New York stage until June 11, when it closes with the 87th running of the Belmont, the only top-class mile-and-a-half race exclusively for 3-year-olds in the country. Then comes Aqueduct, opening its summer session with the Queens County Handicap June 13.
And on the West Coast Hollywood Park goes on and on until mid-July.
There's racing too in Ohio, in Michigan, in Colorado, in Nebraska. In fact, it will be almost impossible to be out of range of the sound of hoofbeats from now until autumn.