The big racing news of the week is that Californiabred Swaps—victor in the Kentucky Derby—will meet Nashua, pride of the East, in a two-horse match race in Chicago on August 6. Place: Washington Park. Distance: the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Likely purse: $75,000, winner take all. Entrepreneur: Ben Lindheimer, director of Washington and Arlington parks. Principals (other than Swaps and Nashua): California Owner Rex Ellsworth and New York Owner William Woodward Jr. Jockeys (very probably): Willie Shoemaker on Swaps, Eddie Arcaro on Nashua. Sole conditions: Nashua to win this week's Belmont and both horses to remain sound.
The match race would do as much as anything to rescue a potentially great 3-year-old season from complete indecisiveness. Interestingly enough, the story is not complete without an additional fact: Ben Lindheimer's intermediary with Rex Ellsworth and Bill Woodward was none other than wide-ranging Don Ameche who, many believed, had given up his role as public benefactor when he invented the telephone for Twentieth Century-Fox in 1939.
SI is pardonably proud to announce these developments since for some time we have been proposing just such a race as a most logical way to help settle the question of 3-year-old supremacy. Following Swaps's brilliant and convincing length-and-a-half victory over Nashua in the Kentucky Derby, the sad news quickly spread that they were not to meet in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Ellsworth races Swaps in California, Woodward races Nashua in the East.
In our May 23 issue we suggested that Nashua and Swaps—provided both continued to rule their respective racing areas—might settle the 3-year-old title in a match race in Chicago between July 16 and August 20. (Nashua is nominated for Chicago's Arlington Classic on July 16, Swaps for the American Derby on August 20.) The proposal brought a lively response from readers. One letter from an Easterner named John McDonald (SI, May 30) deplored the fact that unless the best horses race the best the justification for the entire structure of thoroughbred racing crumbles to nothing, and the sport becomes merely a device for "gambling in the sun."
Last week we received another letter, presenting one California point of view. Jack Sloan, sports editor of the Pomona Progress-Bulletin, says in effect, "Yes, Mr. McDonald, but, after all, the champion lives in California, not in your East." Writes Sloan:
"I was most interested in John McDonald's letter (SI, May 30) expressing his dissatisfaction with the present Swaps-Nashua status, which leaves undecided the important question of 3-year-old supremacy....
"Although Swaps won the Kentucky Derby over Nashua in rather convincing fashion, there are many who feel one race wasn't a sufficient test of his superiority, including undoubtedly William Woodward.
"It seems to us, however, that if such a race is to come about it should be instituted by Woodward. Because of the Kentucky Derby result his horse now is playing the role of challenger—not the champion.
"I just talked to a source close to the horse's mouth-Mickey Tenney, Swaps's trainer. This is Swaps's schedule for the next few months: he will be at Hollywood Park through most of July; he will be at Washington Park near Chicago through Labor Day, and from there he will go to Garden State in New Jersey.
"So if Woodward and Nashua would like another shot at the champion they know where he'll be. All they have to do is show up at one of those tracks.
"Would he have an objection to racing Swaps against Nashua again? 'Not in the least,' said Tenney, 'as long as Swaps is in good condition.'
"Does he feel Swaps would win again? 'I think so,' added Tenney, 'unless Nashua were much improved over his Kentucky Derby showing.' The Derby was run exactly to Nashua's desire, and therefore he felt certain Swaps had proved he was the better horse.
"Neither Tenney nor Ellsworth is playing hard to get with their horse nor are they looking for soft-touch races to win with Swaps. At Hollywood Park he will run against topflight horses, probably including Determine, last year's Kentucky Derby winner.
"They are justly proud of Swaps and confident of his ability. And barring any mishaps to Swaps in the meantime they will be glad to oblige Woodward, Nashua and a lot of racing fans when they return to the East."
The only way to get an authoritative response to this California doctrine was to wave it at William Woodward. Here is his reply:
"Mr. Sloan is absolutely correct when he says that Swaps is the champion and that Nashua is the challenger. We were beaten in the Derby, and Swaps is unbeaten this year. Swaps is undoubtedly the best 3-year-old in the country right now. As far as Nashua is concerned, we must now prove ourselves against the horses in the East. That means we must win the Belmont Stakes, which is where I believe supremacy in the East is proved nearly every year. If Nashua wins the Belmont we'll be glad to take advantage of any geographical position Swaps may be in—in order to offer him a challenge. But before we, as challenger from the East, can move toward meeting the champion of the West, we have to win the Belmont."
There it is. If all goes well, Ben Lindheimer will be staging the race of the year.
The rest will be up to the rival camps from California and New York—Owners Ellsworth and Woodward, Trainers Meshach Tenney and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Jockeys Willie Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro. And—oh yes—two rousing race horses named Swaps and Nashua.
NASHUA, 1955 PREAKNESS RECORD-BREAKER, WILL REPRESENT EAST
EXUBERANT JOCKEYS will match skill, strategy in duel of champions—Willie Shoemaker on Swaps, Eddie Arcaro on Nashua.
SWAPS, KENTUCKY DERBY CONQUEROR OF NASHUA, UPHOLDS WEST
HAPPY ENTREPRENEUR behind the special race is Chicago's Ben Lindheimer, whose intermediary was Don Ameche (right).