Even the nervous members of the syndicate which bought him for the staggering price of $1,251,200 knew perfectly well that sooner or later Nashua was going to take a licking. What none of them dared to dream, however, was that when defeat came it would be as plainly decisive and stunning as the setback administered by Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane's Sailor in last Saturday's $100,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Even before the numbers went up—and certainly before anyone could get around to saying anything nice about Sailor's magnificent race—the dazed audience started murmuring to one another, "Whatever happened to Nashua?" His worst showing in three seasons of racing saw him finish way back in fifth place—some seven lengths behind Sailor, who led almost from flagfall to the wire in covering the mile and a quarter in 2:00 3/5. And before Nashua crossed the line he was preceded by an obscure chestnut named Mielleux, Alfred Vanderbilt's Find, and Wise Margin, a 6-year-old who up to this point had distinguished himself by doing no better than one third in three starts over at the Fair Grounds. Then came Nashua.
As he stood up bravely in his box to accept condolences and to ready himself for a barrage of questions, syndicate front man Leslie Combs II made a good try at hiding his bitter disappointment. Looking down from his Turf Club box, his eyes darting first to the spectacle of Nashua being led slowly away, then to the triumphant scene in the winner's circle, Combs gave it the real college try. "That, I suppose, is horse racing. People come to see your horse lose as much as they come to see him win. They know he can't win 'em all—and now we know it too. I just don't know what happened out there."
A man with a less philosophical point of view on such matters gave perhaps the only true explanation of what did happen out there. Striding glumly back to the jockeys' quarters accompanied by Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Eddie Arcaro was leveling with anybody within earshot. "Nashua showed me a little run going past the stands the first time, but when we hit the half-mile pole that's when he really came up empty on me." Eddie shot a fiery glance at the questioning reporters and went on. "He ran out of—uh—talent, shall we say, and from then on—well, hell, I don't have to say it, everybody saw it—he just didn't run, and that's it."
Arcaro is not by nature the sort of man who makes a habit of knocking a horse who has done his share in giving them both added notoriety and, having just given Nashua an exceedingly quick brushoff, he now felt it only right to start a mild buildup again: "I will say this for him, though, he's never had to give away that sort of weight before. This horse is going to have to give away weight if he's going to be as good as they're trying to make him out to be."
It was left to Willie Hartack, Sailor's jockey, to make the revelation of the day. The Sailor board of strategy-Trainer Preston Burch and Willie—figured they knew what they wanted to do to win the race, but even their careful plans went wrong. "Mr. Burch thought the pace would be pretty slow," said Willie, "and he was right. We figured I would lay about a length off the lead in second place. But going into the first turn my saddle started to slip. Well, hell, this can be dangerous, you know. A guy's liable to fall off and get hurt. So I went to the front right away and just tried to save as much as I could for the stretch because I knew Nashua would be coming at me. Well, he didn't come at me and I was still going good at the finish. This colt is real good."
Just how good Sailor is cannot, of course, be determined strictly on the results of one race. But the fact remains that this chestnut 4-year-old by Eight Thirty is a solid performer with a world of heart. A year ago he didn't mix with the big boys too much but, just the same, in 12 starts he managed to win eight races and get two seconds, for earnings of $138,175. Mrs. Sloane can expect a lot of workmanlike mileage out of him before this season is over, and she can also, I imagine, not expect to get 10 pounds from Nashua the next time they meet. At the moment this is not bothering a very happy Preston Burch and a just-as-delighted Willie Hartack.
"Bill," said Burch as the two parted late Saturday afternoon, "just remember something, will you?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"When this horse is running, you just plan on being nowhere but right with me."
"Don't worry," said Hartack with a broad smile. "I'll be around. In fact, it'll be a pleasure."
A great many people may not care as much at the moment as they have in recent weeks, but somehow the subject of the future of both Nashua and Swaps keeps cropping up in the news from time to time, and unfortunately a good deal of the news is rumor and nothing else. For one thing, there seems to be a lot of talk about Nashua being retired. On this subject, hear Leslie Combs: "There is no question of his being retired this year. We want to beat Citation's record [Nashua earned $2,500 for finishing fifth Saturday but is still $45,245 behind the record], and despite the loss to Sailor we're going to keep on trying. We're going to keep on trying. We're pointing for no particular race but nominating for everything. Our decision to run will always be based on the condition of the horse and the weights assigned to us. I don't want to run Nashua carrying over 130 pounds. So if the handicappers are good to us we'll be around for the full season."
Another unanswered question centers around Swaps's failure to oppose Saturday's Gulfstream Park Handicap field. On this subject, hear Trainer Mish Tenney: "With the tender condition of Swaps's foot, I'm still trying to bring him along slowly. I refuse to start the horse until he's ready, and I don't particularly like to hear rumors saying that we're just trying to duck Nashua. When we're ready we'll meet Nashua or any other horse—it makes no difference. As a matter of fact, I feel quite sure that sometime, someplace this season both Nashua and Swaps will be ready at the same time and that another meeting of the two of them is inevitable."
Almost overlooked in the excitement of Sailor's win Saturday was the six-and-a-half furlong seventh race among some highly regarded 3-year-olds. Some of them are pretty good Kentucky Derby favorites. You can't, of course, pick a Derby winner from the results of a sprint, so it wasn't altogether too surprising to see that speed colt, Decathlon, run off with first money while Rex Ellsworth's entry of Terrang and Like Magic (first and fourth recently in the Santa Anita Derby) wound up fourth and sixth, just in front and back of Calumet Farm's Liberty Sun. All of this is going to make for a wide-open Florida Derby at Gulfstream this Saturday, and it's going to be pretty interesting to see whether the Flamingo winner, Needles, can put the opposition to shame again and somehow seriously justify his position as the leading 3-year-old in the country.