The Jockey Club Gold Cup, two miles over the main course at Belmont Park, is as true a test of Thoroughbred stamina as we have in this country. In the years since its inauguration in 1920 the Cup has been won by such champions as Man o' War, Gallant Fox, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation and High Gun. I doubt if any of them had as much of a battle with the elements as Nashua did last Saturday when he won the 36th Gold Cup.
The day was perfectly frightful. High winds and a driving rain, which never let up for more than a few minutes at a time, turned Belmont into a bleak meeting ground for horseplayers, and, needless to say, the running surface was a sea of slop. It can only be interpreted as a tremendous tribute to Nashua that some 26,565 people ventured out in such weather to watch the Belair Stud's champion 3-year-old run his last race of 1955. Many of the people, I suppose, were those who like to be on hand when history is made, and for them the day was no disappointment. For Nashua, in winning $52,850, finished the campaign started at Hialeah last February 21 as the horse who has earned more money—$752,550—in one season of racing than any other horse in the world. Incidentally, his two-year total is now $945,415, second only to Citation's all-time record of $1,085,760—a mark well within Nashua's reach during the approaching Florida winter season.
There was, as a matter of fact, a considerable amount of speculation last Saturday on whether or not Nashua would be sent out at all. For one thing, he lost the Sysonby to High Gun and Jet Action in the same sort of going, and then, just two weeks ago he was scratched from the Lawrence Realization because it too was to be run in the goo. Well, before the Gold Cup, Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons set the record straight. "It's not true," he explained, "to say the colt can't run over an off track. It's just that he prefers good going. We scratched him from the Lawrence Realization just to save him for this race. It was intended to be his last race of the year, he's trained for it and he'll run—rain or shine."
No one, least of all his jockey, Eddie Arcaro, doubted that two miles would suit Nashua just fine. "Hell, he'll run all day if you ask him to," said Eddie as he waded through the paddock mud. Nashua didn't have to run all day, but he did have to give one good burst of speed coming out of the backstretch to dispose of Thinking Cap, and then he won easily by five lengths. As he went by the stands the first time, laying snugly back in second place, a ripple of applause rolled out into the damp air. When they came around again, the ripple rose to a steady roar in salute. "Anyone should be able to see," said Owner William Woodward, "why he prefers a dry strip. A big horse like Nashua wants to reach out and take advantage of a long, easy stride. He just can't do it in slop. But that doesn't mean he can't win in it just the same."
Later, when the colt had gone back to his barn, Woodward let out a sigh of relief. "I'm awfully relieved that the season is over and that we've been as fortunate as we have. Still, it's difficult to know whether you're making the right decision or not. Nashua is wonderfully fit right now and could race several more times. I just think, though, I'm doing the right thing." Nashua's immediate plans are to remain at Aqueduct for a few weeks and then go to Woodward's Maryland farm. Towards the end of December Fitzsimmons will take him to Florida, where the big objective will be the $100,000 Widener—a mile and a quarter for 3-year-olds and up—at Hialeah on February 18.
"Do you really think," Woodward was asked by a friend, "it is so terribly important to own the richest horse in the world?"
A slow grin came over the face of Nashua's owner. "No," he replied with careful deliberation. "But you must admit it's a sort of useful title for a horse to have."
New York racing patrons are not usually solicited for opinions as to how the sport should be conducted. But now that the new nonprofit Greater New York Association has taken over ownership of all four tracks, programs will include suggestion blanks from which the new management hopes to pull in new ideas for far-reaching improvements. This is a long overdue step in the right direction.