After the eighth race, The Major Lufberry, in which he finished fifth, Eddie Arcaro changed into the red-and-gray silks he would wear in the ninth race, an optional claiming handicap in which he stood to earn $50 if he won. Then he watched the Kentucky Derby on a television set in the pastel depths of Aqueduct. He missed the playing of My Old Kentucky Home.
The last time Eddie Arcaro, who is 44, missed My Old Kentucky Home was in 1943. "That must have been the year I was suspended," Arcaro had said earlier, adjusting his crocheted dickey and reflecting on his cigarette holder. Arcaro did not go to Louisville this year because his Derby horse, Warfare, injured himself and was retired to stud.
"It doesn't bother me," Arcaro said, "because I have no interest. Just to ride in the Derby is no fun. Sure, back when I was a kid.... But I'd rather be in New York. After all, it's still an awfully good way to make a living. Just to make the trip to Louisville is no fun at all. I told my agent I'd go to Kentucky on one condition, that I'd ride Venetian Way. But evidently the owner wouldn't agree to switch."
So Arcaro remained at Aqueduct, where herring gulls litter the infield ponds and the $2 bettor arrives by subway. He won the daily double and rode the favorite in the feature, The Bed 0' Roses, and finished last. Between races he kibitzed a solitaire game and practiced his golf swing.
Arcaro had picked Bally Ache in the Derby (although "I feel in my heart Tompion is the best horse") because of his favorable post position. He had thought that Venetian Way "won't be far off. As a riding chance, fine," he said, "but betting, well, that's a different story."
He said he watched the Derby, not with excitement but with "professional interest." After it was over he said, with no evident regret: "The horse I've been holding out for all week was a winner. Hartack rode him very good. He got him through those horses on the back side, took every advantage there was all the way. Hartack's left-handed, so I couldn't tell if he was hitting him. On TV you can't tell. He might have been hitting him on the inside. Well, this was a Derby where there wasn't much talking point." And with that he went off to win the ninth race by a good three-and-a-half lengths.
"If you could ride those kind it'd be such an easy game," Arcaro said when he returned to the jockeys' room. "You have an affection for a horse that can run. Ability to run alone makes you admire them."
He put on his shirt, which had E.A. sewn on each cuff and E.A. sewn inside the collar. He put on his pearly tie, which had E.A. on it, too. "Gee," he said, forgetting that he wasn't supposed to be excited, "Venetian Way won real easy. He moved to that horse like a man. I said like a man, like the best."