An hour beforeHialeah proudly presented the $141,800 Flamingo Stakes for 3-year-olds lastSaturday, a jockey named George Edward Arcaro was standing by the snack bar inthe jocks' room. As he leaned over the counter sipping a cup of coffee anddrawing on a filtered cigaret, Arcaro was the perfect picture of the confidentman. He had already slipped on the white-and red-dotted silks of the BelairStud and now, in the last few quiet moments before he would ride out to face aflamingo-pink world, he spoke from the heart about the horse he was about toride. "I know Nashua is the outstanding 3-year-old in the country. What Idon't know—and what nobody else here knows either—is whether Nashua will runlike the best 3-year-old."
Thus, in anutshell, America's finest rider posed what may be the only real question abouthis mount—a magnificent bay problem child possessing the speed and heart of achampion and yet just enough of the unpredictable temperament of a prima donnato justify a sense of uneasiness among his followers every time he steps out ona race track. In the walking ring a few minutes later Arcaro legged up onNashua under the careful scrutiny of Belair's master, William Woodward Jr., andBelair's trainer, 80-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. During the previous weekthe trio had discussed tactics, the opposition—and the problem child. AfterNashua won his first race of the year five days earlier at a mile and asixteenth, Mr. Fitz told worried observers: "He had me a little frightened,running the last eighth like a clown and looking up in the grandstand as thoughhe were counting the house. It isn't that he's mean, but it seems he resentsEddie using the whip." Then, after some reflection, he added, "I see alot of Gallant Fox in this horse. When he got in front, he'd drop his ears andsay, 'That's that.' But, like Gallant Fox, this colt should be a greatone." As an added precaution that Nashua wouldn't flub his chance to giveMr. Fitz the first Flamingo victory of the old trainer's long and happy career,the big bay was relieved of his customary blinkers. "I want him to see allhe can see without worrying himself," explained Sunny Jim.
There is notelling how much worrying Nashua did last Saturday. None, however, among therecord Hialeah crowd of 37,282 escaped from the pink premises without sufferingthrough a 12-minute period of anxious suspense. Nashua won his race, as mosteverybody expected he would. He won this mile-and-a-furlong classic by a lengthand a half over Mrs. Marion duPont Scott's Saratoga and 10 other rivals, buteven as he crossed the line under the usual proficient Arcaro hand-ride Nashuaprompted veterans in the stands to predict that if any horse beats Nashua itwill probably be Nashua himself. Here they had a good point, for in this 26thFlamingo Nashua nearly did beat himself—not for lack of running fast enough,but because of an old familiar tendency to do the wrong thing at the wrongtime.
This time Nashuadid it, as he nearly always does, on the way home. The race, for the lastquarter mile, was strictly between Nashua and Saratoga, both of whom had movedto the front shortly after passing the half-mile pole. In the upper stretch, asNashua and Saratoga ran away to settle this issue between themselves, Nashuabore out. As he did he had a brief brushing encounter with Ted Atkinson aboardSaratoga. Later, with but a 16th of a mile to go, Nashua ducked suddenly intoward the rail in still another demonstration of unruly runningtemperament.
Atkinson, asexpected, protested that Nashua's behavior ruined Saratoga's winning chances.The judges, however, after a 12-minute study of the films, exonerated Nashuaand ruled that he already had a length lead when he swerved in approaching thefinish.
The decisionbrought a relieved sigh from a mass of bettors who had sent Nashua postward atodds of 7 to 10. It also brought some relief to the triumvirate of Woodward,Fitzsimmons and Arcaro, who could sit down to divvy up a check for $104,600.Said Arcaro after the race, "He ran a little more kindly today, but wasstill fooling around. If he had run as he should, he would have won by 10. Youcan't tell how good he is."
One reason nobodycan tell how good Nashua is, as he starts off in quest of the Kentucky Derbyroses and the honor of being history's ninth Triple Crown winner, is that the1955 Flamingo gave Nashua relatively little opposition. The real test of theFlamingo was to have been between rich and mighty Nashua and the unbeatenBoston Doge, who has won all eight of his races. But late on Thursday BostonDoge developed a slight cough. Owners Paul and Frank Andolino immediatelyagreed that their star should be saved for the Experimental Handicap at Jamaicaon April 2.
As for Nashua'sfuture plans, Woodward and Fitzsimmons said they would make a decision afterthe weekend. Mr. Fitz would like to bring his star to New York soon, but hegladly concedes that the boss should have the last word. "If Mr. Woodwardwants to spend more time in Florida, we may point for the Florida Derby [atGulf-stream, March 26]. Mr. Woodward should be allowed a few decisions. Afterall, I want him to have some fun owning this horse."
Owning Nashua mayindeed be fun for Woodward, Mr. Fitz and part-time worker Arcaro in 1955."But," warned Arcaro as he departed, "there's a lot of tough racesahead. None of us know what to expect from Summer Tan and Royal Coinage[Nashua's leading rivals in 1954), and out in California they've got somepretty fair horses, too. This could be Nashua's year—but Nashua is going tohave to make it his year the hard way."