At Saratoga, which happily stands out in this dizzy age of commercialized sport as one of the few surviving localities where tradition retains the significance it deserves, they haven't been having much luck. Stifling heat the first week and almost continuous rain last week forced attendance down 17% and, of course, the mutuel handle took a similar dive. Nonetheless there were some newsworthy happenings at the country's oldest operating race track. Item one is Nashua, who is training there for his match race against Swaps at Chicago's Washington Park on August 31. Item two is the 35th annual Fasig-Tipton Company yearling sales.
Nashua, you will recall, ran—and won—his last race in the Arlington Classic on July 16. Since that first foray to the Midwest the colt has been living in stall 49, barn 55, just off Saratoga's Oklahoma training track.
Among those immediately concerned with the state of Nashua's well-being there abounds a feeling of quiet—not outspoken—confidence that their horse will on August 31 gain revenge for his loss to Swaps in the Kentucky Derby. "The rest up here has done him worlds of good," says Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Nashua's trainer. "He's put on a little weight—now weighs about 1,250 pounds—and stands 16.2 hands. There's no telling how much good it does a horse to spend a month in this satisfying climate. The good air, cool nights and easy workouts have relaxed him a great deal after a very hard spring and summer campaign. I know he'll be ready to run when he leaves here. Then, if he isn't the best horse, well, that's too bad."
THE EASY LIFE
With the exception of a couple of days of complete rest since his return from Chicago, the eastern 3-year-old champion has been given some work every day. His usual routine has been a slow and leisurely two-mile gallop on the training track. He has had a couple of works on the main track, but has yet to be asked for any real speed. "When a horse is in good condition to start with," says Mr. Fitz, "he doesn't need too much hard work. He'll get a few more—maybe a half a dozen—workouts on the main track before we ship to Chicago. He'll probably get only one good workout on the Washington Park track before the match race."
Nashua's popularity at Saratoga (like Native Dancer, when Nashua steps on the main track in the morning it is an occasion for all other work to cease) is nonetheless earning him comparatively few match-race supporters. Among a couple of dozen jockeys and trainers I questioned on the subject, Swaps was the choice by a 4 to 1 margin. The mutual feeling was quite simple: on the basis of their only other race Swaps won fairly and looked like the better horse. Nothing Nashua has shown has influenced a change of mind. If you want to say Nashua has improved, what about Swaps? To see him do so many things so incredibly easily, you have to become a believer.
None of the commotion over the race is apparently bothering Nashua in the least. He is the center of interest in the stable area and likes it fine. Visitors are constantly arriving to look at him. When newsreel and flash cameras go into action Nashua, like a born actor, senses the importance of the occasion and enjoys "hamming it up."
Nashua's personal life is carefully regulated by his private groom, Allie Robertson. "He's a model horse," says Allie. "He has a good temperament, he's a good doer and a good shipper." The day begins for Nashua when his personal night watchman, James Driscoll, brings him a breakfast of three quarts of oats (whole and crushed) and replenishes his hayrack at 3:30 a.m. At 5:30 Groom Robertson checks in and removes all the remaining hay from the rack "so his stomach will be empty when it's time for his workout." Following the work, which usually is held around 8:30, Nashua is washed, rubbed down, dried off, cooled out for 20 minutes and then allowed to graze on grass for about an hour. Back in his stall by 10:30 he gets lunch: four quarts of oats, more hay and water. At 3:30 in the afternoon he is taken out for a 20-minute walk and another hour of grazing. The day is over following six additional quarts of oats for dinner at 4:30.
Robertson estimates that in addition to his carefully regulated diet of 13 quarts of oats a day, Nashua consumes some 26 pounds of hay and drinks about 20 gallons of water during every 24-hour cycle. The water, by the way, is bottled Mountain Valley Water from Hot Springs, Ark., which Mr. Fitz got into the habit of feeding to some horses after Gallant Fox refused to drink "Chicago water" at the Arlington Classic of 1930.
Mr. Fitz looked wistfully out the office window at a stable hand piling the five-gallon bottles of Arkansas water. His eyes shifted quickly to another carload of arriving visitors. Then with a cheerful smile, he said, "I've been training a long time. I've won a lot of races and lost a lot, too. But with all these nice people taking so much interest in this horse and wishing us so much good luck, I guess this is one race I'd really like to win."
Although they lacked a consignment from the Aga Khan's stable, this year's Saratoga yearling sales were nonetheless a whopping success from nearly every point of view. A total of 234 head went under Auctioneer George Swinebroad's hammer for an average price of $9,374 and the total exchange of money was $2,193,500. This was, as you probably know, not as high as the Keeneland sales where a few weeks ago the Breeders' Sales Co. disposed of 346 yearlings for an all-time U.S. record average of $11,167. The big difference in the two averages seems to lie in two factors. First, because the Keeneland yearlings were culled out of an original list of 773 candidates, those who made the final catalogue were of the highest stock available in the country—making the Keeneland ring, this year at least, more of a horseman's market. Secondly, the Texas and Oklahoma oil money, along with California buyers, came in force to Keeneland and not Saratoga.
ONLY THE GOOD
At both sales, however, there was an unmistakable common trend: a great deal of money was spent for every well-bred horse. But buyers are becoming more selective than ever. The market for medium-bred yearlings remains, while the market for unpopularly-bred horses is hitting rock bottom. Ira Drymon, president of the Thoroughbred Club of America, credits the satisfactory results of both sales as a reflection on the more or less healthy business conditions through the country. "Even the encouraging reports from Geneva," he said, "prompted an awareness on the part of the breeding industry that we are living in an age of great prosperity."
Incidentally, the top auction price of the summer (and second highest in U.S. history) was the $80,000 paid by Tulsa oilman Forrest H. Lindsay for a Nasrullah colt which he presented to his two daughters as a reward for improvement in their school grades. The top price at Saratoga was $44,000 paid by Mrs. Anson Bigelow for a chestnut Citation colt out of Miss Brief. Runner-up honors went to Miss Eleonora R. Sears, the Prides Crossing, Mass. sportswoman of considerable athletic fame (SI, August 23, 1954). Miss Sears, who used to think nothing of walking from Providence to Boston (fastest trip: nine hours, 53 minutes), gave up $43,000 for a colt by Blue Peter.