Virtually all of the admirable qualities of battle judgment and pure race-riding skill which Eddie Arcaro has discussed with such frank eloquence on the preceding pages (and which he demonstrated with such brilliance in winning last Saturday's Metropolitan on Traffic Judge) will be put on one of the toughest testing lines in U.S. Thoroughbred racing this week.
The 89th Belmont Stakes—that classic test of champions which has so often in the past been the decisive race in selecting the season's best 3-year-old—could be a dream race. Not the perfect dream, to be sure, because Calumet Farm, which had a near monopoly on the business of collecting cups and money for the first half of the season, will not be represented. (Gen. Duke and Kentucky Derby winner Iron Liege are still ailing, and Barbizon, for all his brief moment of glory as a 2-year-old, would now appear to be more ordinary than super.) The combination of Arcaro and Bold Ruler stands quite alone atop the sophomore lists. In the mile-and-a-half Belmont this combination will be most severely challenged, possibly not so much by the likes of such would-be champions as Nah Hiss, Inside Tract, Cohoes, Manteau and Lucky Dip, but most definitely by that controversial Derby runner-up, Gallant Man, and his very great rider, Willie Shoemaker.
Gallant Man is a most interesting colt who seems to have come in for rather undue criticism—most of it stemming from a report that he is a fragile little thing who is incapable of standing much severe training. "Hogwash," says outspoken Johnny Nerud, who trains Gallant Man for Texan Ralph Lowe. "How can anybody say that a colt who gets beat a nose in the Derby after going a mile and a quarter can't stand training? Besides that, all you have to do is look at him to tell he's neither fragile nor too small."
To settle the matter once and for all, last week Humphrey Finney, the knowing president of racing's premier auction firm, the Fasig-Tipton Co., taxied out to Aqueduct armed with a measuring stick which has seen duty from Newmarket to Saratoga to Pomona. After comparative measurements had been taken on both Gallant Man and Bold Ruler, Expert Finney peered over the top of his precariously balanced spectacles and announced solemnly for the record, "Bold Ruler is exactly one hand—four inches-taller than Gallant Man [16 hands, 1½ inches to 15 hands, 1½ inches]. I would classify him as of well-made small medium size, and although he may have what is known as a somewhat delicate constitution, he has extremely good depth of shoulder and a lot of strength running down into his hock. He has good spring to his pastern, walks straight and follows well."
Humphrey Finney has special reason to admire Gallant Man on the eve of America's toughest 3-year-old race. Finney personally selected him (along with five other colts and three fillies) for Lowe off the Aga Khan's Sheshoon Stud on The Curragh of County Kildare, Ireland in 1955. The price for the package deal (which included another probable Belmont starter in Tulyar's full brother Bold Nero, and a half-brother to Noor named Gray Man) was $220,000. And one of the reasons influencing Finney, aside from the yearling's conformation, was obviously his classic breeding. Gallant Man's sire is Migoli (by Bois Roussel out of Mah Iran), who, as a 3-year-old in 1947, won the mile-and-a-half King Edward VII Stakes and was second in the Derby and third in the St. Leger. The following year he won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Majideh, the dam of Gallant Man, is the daughter of Derby winner Mahmoud, and she herself accounted for the Irish Oaks and Irish 1000 Guineas before she retired to the stud to produce, among her five stakes winners, another Oaks winner in Masaka.
These, then, are obviously acceptable credentials for a potential Belmont winner, and even if it is a generally accepted axiom in racing that a good big horse (in this case Bold Ruler) should beat a good little horse, turf history can point to any number of proved contradictions. Among those which stand out as examples of little horses whipping their larger contemporaries are Mahmoud and Hyperion in the Epsom Derby, and Clyde Van Dusen and Determine in our own Derby. All were on the smallish side but had the heart and stamina to get the job done.
On his performance alone Bold Ruler deserves the favorite's role. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons again plans to equip him with blinkers, and Arcaro hasn't for a moment changed his opinion that this is the best 3-year-old around. If he gets off on the front end (as he likes to do) with nobody to push him for the first part of it, Bold Ruler could make a runaway of the race. But rival trainers know Bold Ruler by now. They know, for instance, the only way of possibly beating him is to make him work every foot of the way, and to win the Belmont this way takes not just a good horse—but a great one. We've all seen enough of Bold Ruler now to have an idea of what he can do if his heart is in it. We've seen only enough of Gallant Man to speculate that this Britishbred bay may be just now coming into his own—and into the classic championship class.