Just about everyone within seeing or hearing distance of last week's Preakness has gone on record as stating that it surely must have been Nashua's finest showing. There's no denying it. The big bay never looked better or ran with more convincing authority as he rolled up win No. 11 in the mile-and-three-sixteenths Pimlico event that makes up the second leg of racing's triple crown.
All very well, but come, come, fellas. Even as fine an animal as Nashua cannot make his performances memorable all by himself. What about the others? What about a horse named Saratoga who pushed Nashua to a track record of 1:54[3/5]? Well, to tell the truth, Saratoga had behaved so badly all week that he very nearly didn't make the race at all. Such behavior is nothing new for Saratoga. "You never know quite what he's going to do," says his trainer, Frank A. (Downey) Bonsal. "At Hialeah he used to sulk all the way to the track, but once there he just loved to run. At Pimlico he'll get to the track all right, but then he starts sulking. Last week he gave me fits. When we finally got him running he'd go too fast, then suddenly, for no reason, after breezing a half mile he'd dig his toes into the ground and stop. Finally, a couple of days before the Preakness—and just about the time when I had to make up my mind if we were going to let him run or not—I really got desperate. My son Frank and I went out at daybreak with a couple of hunting crops. I didn't use one on Saratoga but I sure felt like it, and he looked at me as though he knew I was mad enough to use the crop on him. This scene ended with me chasing Saratoga nearly an eighth of a mile on foot down the Pimlico track, waving the crop around like a wild man. If anybody saw us they must have thought we were all nuts."
On Preakness day, Saratoga (whose sire is Blenheim II) never gave a tip-off on what sort of mood he was in. Downey Bonsal looked him over carefully in the paddock. Saratoga was already in a lather. Bonsal promptly began sweating just as much. Saratoga's owner, Mrs. Marion duPont Scott, took in the scene through a pair of dark glasses without perspiring even one bead. As the horses left for the post parade, Bonsai hustled off to his box seat. "I swear I don't know what's going to happen out there," he moaned. "He might never come out of the gate. Or again, he might feel like running his race."
Saratoga did run his race. Although finishing second to Nashua, it was Saratoga, the pace-setter, who made the 1955 Preakness a memorable event. And, for all you know, it might have been the terrifying thought of a few licks from Downey Bonsal's hunting crop that made this possible.
June 5, 1955
If last Saturday was just another race day to Nashua, it was one of the happiest of many happy racing days for his trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. Slightly before the show went on at Pimlico, where his son John did the saddling honors, Mr. Fitz sent out the Wheatley Stable's High Voltage to win the Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. By sundown in New York and Maryland, Sunny Jim had 10% of $113,350—the day's earnings of Nashua and High Voltage. He had both Eddie Arcaro and Ted Atkinson working for him on this big day, and there's no telling what this strong combination will do before the year is up. The season isn't even half over.