In many ways thetense excitement that accompanied the matching, the running and the unexpectedaftermath of the Swaps-Nashua encounter at Washington Park (see precedingpages) reflects the whole picture of Thoroughbred racing in the U.S. during1955. For it was a year of general excitement, a season of genuinely noteworthyperformances. Before admission turnstiles stop clicking on the last day of thismonth the official records will show that America's No. 1 paid spectator sportwill have attracted close to 30 million fans in the 24 states which legalizepari-mutuel betting. Those fans will have bet over 2 billion dollars on some26,000 horses running in about 31,000 races.
But long afterthe statistical records have been read, noted and forgotten by many the memoryof the match race will linger on. Purely as a horse race, the Swaps-Nashuaaffair could not, perhaps, compare with such thrillers as Nashua's victory by aneck over Summer Tan in the Wood Memorial or Helioscope's margin of a head overHigh Gun in the Suburban Handicap. Yet there was a naturally inspired elementof sheer drama as Swaps and Nashua walked quietly into the Washington Parkstarting gate to settle an argument of supremacy—an argument which had managedin the weeks before the race to find its way into the homes of sport fansaround the world. The drama did not end when Nashua, under one of the fiercestdriving rides ever staged by Eddie Arcaro, left Swaps after a mile and won bysix and a half lengths. It hung heavy in the air between New York andCalifornia for days and even weeks as the analysts probed for explanations ofSwaps's sudden reversal of form. When it was revealed that Swaps had re-injureda foot, which had given his stable cause to worry intermittently throughout hisbrilliant West Coast racing career, the news served for some as a handy trumpetwith which to proclaim Nashua's victory hollow and meaningless. From thewinner's camp came back the retort that Swaps must have been sound onmatch-race day, for no unsound horse—regardless of heart and courage—could haverun virtually head and head with Nashua for the first mile. This much is known:Nashua won on his own merits and on the combined merits of a jockey and trainerwho had no peers in 1955. This too is known: Rex Ellsworth, owner of Swaps,displayed the admirable traits of a true sportsman in agreeing to a match racein the first place. His horse, already in the role of 3-year-old champion, hadnothing to gain, everything to lose by accepting the challenge of Nashua.Ellsworth was so worried over Swaps's foot that on the eve of the race hephoned a friend in California to express his concern.
In any case, allwas well with Nashua, and the following afternoon, as he won the Race of theYear, he quite logically set himself up for the honor which officially befellhim this week: being named Horse of the Year by a majority of the 33 editors,correspondents and handicappers voting in the annual poll of The MorningTelegraph and Daily Racing Form. Nashua received 22 votes to eight for HighGun, his conqueror in the Sysonby, and three for Swaps. The Belair Stud colt'ssuperiority in his own 3-year-old division was even more one-sided as 29 of the33 experts voted for him and the remaining four stuck with Swaps. Voting alsoon a more encompassing 5-2-1 basis, these two far outdistanced the only other3-year-old colts to get a call: Traffic Judge, Saratoga and Summer Tan.
Nashua madehistory in 1955 by setting a new one-year earnings record of $752,550 with 10victories in 12 starts. His exploits, seen by millions through the medium oftelevision, put Nashua on the same lofty pedestal to which only one horsebefore him—Native Dancer—had been elevated. This week his public, while readingan announcement that Swaps has recovered from his foot operation and will beready for a Santa Anita winter campaign, was still wondering what lay ahead forNashua and hoping he would be given his deserved chance to eclipse Citation'sall-time earning record. Following the recent death of his owner, WilliamWoodward Jr., Nashua has been turned out in Kentucky, awaiting the finaldecision as to the disposition of the stable—a decision which will revealwhether Nashua goes to Hialeah or possibly to the sales ring.
The verystructure of American racing, with an accent which lays heavy stress on theclassic stakes (including the Triple Crown) for 3-year-olds, tends occasionallyduring the long season to overemphasize the importance of the leading sophomoreevents. Thus it is often the case that, unless the other divisions boast anoutstanding racer, performances in those ranks are all but forgotten until, atyear's end, one suddenly discovers many accredited champions just waiting to becrowned. The naming of these champions this week by some of the sport's mostproficient and knowing observers was, however, no simple task. The voters didnot allow themselves to be swayed purely by figures of victories and purses. Ifthey did they would not have selected the King Ranch's High Gun (the 3-year-oldchampion of 1954) as the leading handicap horse of 1955. High Gun, astutelytrained by Max Hirsch, won in fact only three of his seven races this year, butthe deciding factor in his favor was undoubtedly that in one of theseperformances, the Sysonby, he gave Nashua five pounds and then proceeded to flyfrom dead last to win a head decision over Jet Action in the very laststride—with Nashua another three and a half lengths behind. Runners-up to HighGun were Helioscope, who twice defeated the King Ranch color-bearer, and SocialOutcast, a sort of modern-day Exterminator, who managed during the course of ahighly successful season to face the starter 22 times. He won eight and pickedup earnings of $390,775.
If there was anyoutright confusion at the polls, it appeared to have centered over theselection of the year's top 2-year-old colt. And here again, with their mindson performance rather than earnings, the experts swung to Needles, theFlorida-bred son of Ponder who won six races and $129,805. His closestcompetitor was Career Boy, while behind these two came the Garden State winnerPrince John, the Futurity winner Nail and Swoon's Son, the sensation of theChicago season. They all had' moments of brilliance this year. Needles, PrinceJohn and Nail are all being pointed for the Flamingo at Hialeah and the FloridaDerby at Gulfstream, and from their winter competition one may emerge with adecisive edge on form when the new 3-year-olds are asked to extend themselvesto the full mile-and-a-quarter Derby distance.
The distaff sideof racing, unfortunately, seldom receives the recognition that comes to thecolts. This year the top honors went to a 3-year-old daughter of Princequillo.Misty Morn was not only chosen best in her own division over High Voltage butalso the leading handicap filly or mare over Parlo. Misty Morn, who, likeNashua, is trained by 81-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, may be another goodexample of a champion being selected by virtue of a sensational performance inone particular race. And, as in the case of High Gun impressing the voters inhis last start, Misty Morn made the last of her 22 outings of the year one ofthe season's great highlights. In the mile-and-five-eighths Gallant FoxHandicap at Jamaica she defeated proven distance runners and broke—by twofifths of a second—the track record held jointly by such notable performers asStymie and Counterpoint. The leading 2-year-old filly was Doubledogdare, a baydaughter of Double Jay who annexed, among her six victories, one division ofthe National Stallion Stakes, the Colleen, the Matron and the Alcibiades. Heronly close competitor in the voting was Nasrina, who accounted for the world'srichest juvenile filly stakes, the Gardenia, at Garden State.
Honors came toother horses too. The champion grass runner was the English-bred 4-year-oldgelding St. Vincent, who last winter at Santa Anita took distance triumphs inboth the San Gabriel and the San Juan Capistrano.
The sprintertitle was awarded to another successful California campaigner, the 5-year-oldBerseem, who, although only raced 10 times, won four of those starts in goodtimes (six furlongs in 1:09[4/5] or better on three occasions) with littletrouble. His runner-up was Swaps, who, before the ill-fated journey toWashington Park, had set a world record of 1:40[2/5] for a mile and a sixteenthat Hollywood Park. With the steeplechasers it was a landslide vote for Neji(SI, Nov. 14), the Temple Gwathmey and Grand National winner who runs for Mrs.Ogden Phipps and is trained by her brother, G. H. (Pete) Bostwick.
As the racingyear of 1955 ran its course before enthusiastic audiences who bet more moneythan ever before (see wagering and attendance charts below), the prospects for1956 were good. Track management everywhere is busy improving facilities withwhich to attract even larger crowds next year. And whether or not the championsof 1955 return to defend their laurels (only one of them, High Gun, hasdefinitely retired from racing), the history of horse racing shows there havealways been new champions to crown. New champions, like old ones, will keep theexcitement alive.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
1955 AMERICAN THOROUGHBRED RACING CHAMPIONS
For the last 20 years the editors, correspondents,handicappers, clockers and trackmen of The Morning Telegraph and Daily RacingForm have voted awards to the top performers on U.S. race tracks. Herewith, aspecially prepared summary of the views of this year's qualified votinggroup—33 experts stationed at race tracks from coast to coast—who cast theirballots on a 5-2-1 point system.