On her way to the paddock at Aqueduct last week to see her handsome colt, Sword Dancer, saddled before the running of the Woodward, Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane was stopped by a teen-age girl. "Please give this four-leaf clover to Eddie Arcaro," she said. "I want Sword Dancer to win."
When Mrs. Sloane gave the good luck charm to Arcaro he cracked, "Hell, after all these years if I start getting superstitious about this game you'd better find me a psychiatrist." But he slipped the clover into his pocket.
As it turned out, what really helped Sword Dancer in the Woodward was another one of those masterful rides by Arcaro himself, who is never better than when the stakes are high and the opposition formidable.
This time he brought Sword Dancer from next to last in the seven-horse field and won going away. A length and a half behind was Dotted Swiss. Favored Bald Eagle, which had only to win this race to be acclaimed the best of all horses in training, was third. Sword Dancer, winner of this same race last season as a 3-year-old, broke his own track mark with a clocking of 2:01 1/5 and set himself up for Horse of the Year honors for the second successive season.
From the beginning, the mile-and-a-quarter Woodward had every aspect of a championship test, not only because of the horses involved but the jockeys as well. In addition to Arcaro, there were Willie Shoemaker, Bill Hartack, Manuel Ycaza, Sammy Boulmetis and even that hot young man from the Chicago circuit, Johnny Sellers. With the late-developing 3-year-old, T.V. Lark, Sellers had come to New York after winning five straight, including the United Nations, in which an unlucky Sword Dancer was among his victims. Before the race Sellers said, "Imagine what a feeling it is when you've ridden a horse five times and have never seen him lose—especially when four of those were in $100,000 races!"
On Saturday, Sellers discovered how things look from the other end of the pack. He beat one horse, Warhead, by a neck.
With all the real contenders in this race running on a come-from-behind strategy, it seemed logical that the long shots, Careless John and Warhead, would set the pace. And sure enough, the two of them took right off, joined briefly by Tompion. But Bald Eagle was up close and Dotted Swiss never very far away. Sword Dancer was way back, only leading T.V. Lark, as the field went up the backstretch. "But at least," said Arcaro later, "I had the position and the privilege of going where and when I wanted to." What he meant, of course, was that as the field hit the half-mile pole he wasn't trapped and he had time enough to go either around everything in front of him or through the middle if he got a break.
Well, he got two breaks, and he took advantage of them like a tiger among sheep. The first, at the three-eighths pole, came when Tompion, tired and falling back just ahead of Sword Dancer, drifted out. Eddie drove Sword Dancer through on the inside and saved himself a nice piece of ground.
As they rounded the last turn at the quarter pole, Careless John was still in front. Bald Eagle was closest to him—and looked a sure winner. Dotted Swiss was just a head away on the outside. A weary Warhead was behind these three, and it was around him that Sword Dancer had to move before he could challenge the leaders.
Arcaro started working on his horse. He circled Warhead and faced the trio in front of him driving home the last eighth of a mile. Suddenly Bald Eagle seemed to give up the struggle, and as he started to run loosely he went ever so slightly wide. A hole opened up, and Eddie Arcaro put his horse right into it.
Arcaro got through just beyond the eighth pole and, as he did, Dotted Swiss, on the outside, came in slightly. Sword Dancer and Dotted Swiss put the squeeze on Bald Eagle, and he never made a run at them again. Dotted Swiss fought on gamely, but the race was over and Sword Dancer won it with a show of class and determination that marks all too few of the species Thoroughbred.
In winning a $71,730 purse the beautiful chestnut pushed his alltime earnings to $818,590, which makes him the seventh richest horse in history and the richest of any horse now in training. He also won a new nickname from Arcaro: "He's a little Giant Killer. That's the only name I can think of for him."
HOW ARCARO DID IT
Sword Dancer unquestionably is a fine horse, but he was first in the Woodward because Arcaro combined patience with perfect, split-second judgment. Arcaro wasted not a step of his mount's energy for a long mile, then struck at the precise moment when victory was attainable. An instant of indecision and the race might well have been lost. As he describes it: "At the quarter pole (below left) I was faced with the problem of going around three horses in front of me unless a hole opened. Driving down to the eighth pole, I looked up and saw that Bald Eagle was beginning to veer out just a bit. I dove into that hole between him and Careless John (below right) as quick as I could. You've got to have a real horse to be able to cash in that quick. Sword Dancer had gone a long way, but he still had terrific speed left. If he didn't we would have been in trouble."
1A Dotted Swiss
3 Sword Dancer
4 Careless John
7 Bald Eagle
8 T.V. Lark
THE MASTER describes his winning ride (chart) with typical Arcaro intensity.