For the 51,120 fans who crammed Hollywood Park to its lush confines, the seventh race last Saturday was an eye-popping exhibition. There were six horses entered, but the eyes—and the money—of the crowd were on the darling of the West, the beautiful red-gold colt, Swaps, Kentucky Derby winner and undoubtedly the finest race horse ever raised west of the Rockies.
One of the hoariest axioms of the racing game is that 3-year-olds cannot run successfully against older horses in the spring of the year. Swaps, who was entered against five older, stronger and cannier horses in a chips-down race, was called upon to do the impossible.
It was not only that he did it but how he did it that had homestretch-hardened horsemen whistling with awe. The great 3-year-old not only trounced the old pros by a gaudy length and a quarter but did it without his jockey's even shaking his whip under his nose—and in the world's record time of 1:40 2/5ths for a mile and a sixteenth!
Swaps was not pitted against a pack of run-of-the-track campaigners. Arrayed alongside him in the starting gate were horses like Liz Whitney Lunn's Mister Gus, a speedster given to running in near-track-record time, and the gutty little gray, Determine, himself a Kentucky Derby winner last year and now a star handicap horse. Under the weight-for-age conditions of the race Swaps was in with 115 pounds, Determine with 126.
June 19, 1955
Before the race Determine's owner, Andrew J. Crevolin, had a word to the wise for Swaps's owner, Rex C. Ellsworth, and trainer, Meshach Tenney: "You see," said Andy Crevolin, "it's just like an All-America football player going against the pros or the amateur golf champ taking on Hogan and Snead. In other words, a kid against mature men." Tenney's views on the same subject: "I don't think a 3-year-old knows whether he's running against 2-year-olds, 4-year-olds, mules or what have you. If he's fit and able and can outrun the others, he'll win."
Swaps had a stranger aboard—Chicago Jockey Dave Erb (Willie Shoemaker had been set down for rough-riding). Trainer Tenney, unwilling to wreck his horse at any possibly unequal competition, had given Erb his terse instructions: "Don't pull him hard enough to make him shake his head but keep ahold of him." The Tenney-Ellsworth fear was that canny Jockey Johnny Longden on the speed horse, Mister Gus, might set a bristling 21 first quarter, thus gaining enough ground to give his horse a breather before turning on a final burst of speed.
Erb was forewarned. Swaps came out of the gate like a coiled spring, but Jockey Erb immediately pulled the reins taut and allowed Mister Gus to rush past him. Around the first turn and past the gracefully arching palms in the infield Mister Gus went out on the lead. Swaps, in hand, bided his time, and it was apparent he was only stalking his desperate quarry. Mister Gus ran more and more frantically, but behind him—with his jockey trying to discourage him from full pursuit—came the relentless Swaps. Determine lurked in fourth place, gathering himself for the stretch onslaught which would really tell the tale.
Finally, at the five-sixteenths pole, Swaps decided that Mister Gus had had his fun. With easy loping stride he began to draw around and past him. Thundering into the stretch, he was first by a length and it was clear the race was over, despite a final drive that brought Determine in second.
"He's very responsive to the whip, and if hit he might have run no telling how fast," explained his trainer later. Even on the fast Hollywood course, however, a world-record under virtual jockey restraint is not easily laughed off. After it was all over, Ellsworth said candidly, "I was surprised he ran a world's record as easily as he did."