The 35,000 racing fans, flamingo lovers and winter tourists at Hialeah last Saturday had every reason to know that they would be watching the No. 1 glamour race of the winter. It must have occurred to very few of them that they would also witness the fastest mile-and-a-furlong race ever run by a 3-year-old anywhere in the world.
All week long the rival trainers of the seven Flamingo Stakes horses had indulged in a beautiful sparring session in which the double talk would have done justice to Casey Stengel. The heavy rains which had first turned the Hialeah strip into an awful mess of goo gave most trainers good cause for optimism. Their horses, they said confidently, just loved the mud and Bold Ruler had never run in it. To this, Bold Ruler's trainer, Mr. James E. Fitzsimmons, had a simple and logical reply: "I don't know how my horse would go in the mud, but neither does anybody else know."
Fortunately—since a muddy strip might have left the result of the Flamingo inconclusive—a broiling sun settled on Hialeah 48 hours before the race, and Flamingo Day found the strip lightning fast.
The Calumet entry of Gen. Duke and Iron Liege was going to be dangerous, and everyone knew it. The morning of the race, Trainer Jimmy Jones got up from breakfast and said philosophically, "Of course we've got a chance. All we can do is run for it. I like to run—especially for $100,000—but I'm not being fooled into thinking or believing that Bold Ruler won't be just as good or better than he was in the Everglades [a race in which Gen. Duke defeated Bold Ruler by a head while being conceded 12 pounds]."
An hour before the race found Mr. Fitz sitting quietly in the shade of a palm tree in the paddock. He had given his colt little more than a series of nice open gallops during the week and now, as he greeted one well-wisher after another, he commented, "If Bold Ruler isn't ready now, it's too late anyway."
There had been a certain amount of comment among newsmen all week to the effect that Bold Ruler must have a tremendous stride. "It's true," said Mr. Fitz, "he's got the longest stride of any horse I've ever trained, but what's remarkable about this horse, rather than his stride, is how he gets on his way so fast. Long-striding horses usually are slow to get into full stride. This colt is very fast away from that gate. I feel I've got the best horse, but all I can do now is trust the Lord—and Arcaro."
If the Lord had looked down on Arcaro at that moment he would have found him stretched out on a rubbing table in the jocks' room discussing the race which millions would shortly see on their television sets. Eddie let out with an enormous yawn and said, "Sure, there's a lot of talk about those other two colts. Well, hell, I'll put it this way: I wouldn't trade mounts with any other jock in the race. That's the way I feel about Bold Ruler."
In the saddling enclosure Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, Bold Ruler's owner, was surrounded by various members of the Fitzsimmons clan while one of them, Sunny Jim's granddaughter Kathleen, proudly pointed out a Roman Catholic miraculous medal tied neatly to Bold Ruler's forelock. Nervously crossing her fingers, sheexclaimed, "It's the same one Nashua wore when he won this race." Up the line, Mrs. Gene Markey watched Jimmy Jones saddle his pair, and then told Gen. Duke's rider, Willie Hartack, "I won't shake hands with you before, Willie, but I certainly will afterward."
OFF LIKE A ROCKET
True to Mr. Fitz's predictions, Bold Ruler carried his 122 pounds (all horses in this one were equally weighted at 122) out of the gate like a rocket and set off as though he'd kill off his field in the first half mile. But, as Arcaro recalled afterward, "the difference between this race and the Everglades was that he rated more kindly. In the first one he wouldn't rate at all. Today, as we went into the first turn, I dropped my hands on him and he came right back to me while we gave way to Federal Hill."
On they churned, with Federal Hill ticking off the first half in 45 2/5 after a 22 3/5 first quarter. Arcaro made his move on the back side and the clock showed six furlongs in 1:10 2/5. At a mile, Bold Ruler seemingly had it cinched and the stands gasped at what the teletimer showed: a mile in 1:34 2/5—or the identical time that stood as Equipoise's world record for 17 years. But Gen. Duke was moving now, up to second but still two lengths out of it. An eighth of a mile from home, Arcaro whacked his colt sharply five times and settled down to ride. Hartack was driving and driving furiously on the outside, while his partner Iron Liege was already wrapping up third place from the rest of the pack. "For a second or two in the last sixteenth," said Eddie, "Bold Ruler was easing up on me at the finish. But when he saw Gen. Duke draw up almost even with him he turned it on again. It may have looked like Gen. Duke was going to nail us, but I'll tell you from the way my horse felt he could have gone another eighth and still won."
The time for Bold Ruler's neck victory was 1:47 even; to give you an idea of what it means, 1:47 is a second and one-fifth faster than any of the previous Flamingos and one-fifth of a second faster than the track record set by Spartan Valor as a 4-year-old carrying 118 pounds in 1952. But even more significant is that Bold Ruler's time misses the world record by only one-fifth of a second. That record is shared by three horses—all of whom ran it as older horses and all of whom ran it in California. The names of the three: Noor, Alidon and Swaps.
What next for Bold Ruler and Gen. Duke? Another likely meeting at Gulf-stream Park in the Florida Derby on March 30. Then on to the Kentucky Derby. Derby Day (May 4) is a long way off, but last week's Flamingo audience at Hialeah is convinced they've already seen the Derby winner. And for most of them Bold Ruler will be a name they'll never forget.
One man who will certainly never forget him is A. B. (Bull) Hancock Jr., at whose Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. Bold Ruler was foaled on April 6,1954. Bull Hancock watched the record-smashing Flamingo. "You know," he said, "when that horse was a yearling I couldn't have gotten $5 for him. He was the worst stall walker I ever had, and I couldn't get an ounce of meat on him. Goes to show you, doesn't it, how unpredictable the horse business is." Sure does.
A few hours before race time, the announcement was made over the loudspeaker and a great groan went through the crowd of 56,000, largest of the meeting, who had packed Santa Anita Park to its imported statuary: Prince Khaled had been scratched and would not contest the 20th running of the Santa Anita Derby. A lead pony had accidentally slashed him with his hoof in a workout.
Prince Khaled's defection seemed to spoil completely the Santa Anita Derby as a breeder of a champion to beat the East's best in the Kentucky Derby this May. What was left on the track was a pack of lackluster western colts who had difficulty beating each other with any degree of regularity this season. Even before the Prince abdicated, Oilman Travis Kerr had flown his $175,000 Princequillo colt, Round Table, out for the race as a supplementary entry. The money looked that easy.
But when the race was over, if West Coast hearts didn't beat a little easier, they at least beat a little faster. The winner was a plucky, toothless little colt, Sir William, bred and foaled in the state of Washington, where championship race horses are not supposed to come from.
Sir William is owned by an eastern Washington wheat and cattle rancher in his mid-30s, Herb A. Armstrong, who doesn't bother to go to the races himself, just sends his horses. He is trained by a horseman, Cecil Jolly, who is not quite sure where Louisville, Ky. is—since he has never been off the West Coast.
On the rough-and-tumble farm where he was raised, Sir William learned early in life not to expect something for nothing. He tried to take nourishment from the wrong mare as a foal and got his front teeth kicked out for his pains. On the open range Sir William would starve. In the barns he does very nicely, thank you.
It was Sir William's placid acceptance of the hard knocks in life which brought him to the winner's circle. "He got hit real hard by clods at the five-eighths pole," revealed Jockey Henry Moreno later. "I know, because one of them liked to have broken my goggles and I heard them smack him in the face. He never even hesitated."
The race itself was run in the milk-horse time of 1:54 1/5. But the weather had been sodden all week and the track was the kind most horsemen dread—officially "slow," but a holding and tiring furrow of gumbo. Sir William was 10th at the half-mile, moved to fifth with a rush and was third at the head of the stretch when the eastern carpetbagger, Round Table, then leading, ran so wide it seemed for a time as though he were headed for the grandstand.
Second was a sturdy California-bred, Swirling Abbey, who finished a bare head behind Sir William and a bare nose in front of Round Table.
But the race was Sir William's, and Trainer Cecil Jolly was highly excited as he showed up in the press box with his garland of flowers and the trophy later. How good a colt is Sir William? he was asked. "I don't know and you don't either," he grinned.
Would he take him on to Kentucky for the Derby and take on Bold Ruler and Gen. Duke and the rest of them? Jolly looked thoughtful. "You know," he said, "it would be a big shot in the arm for the folks back in Washington if he even ran fourth or fifth in Kentucky. I don't think a Washington-bred ever got in that race."
Jolly's guarded faith was not shared by Jockey Moreno, who won the 1953 Kentucky Derby aboard Dark Star. "This is the best horse I rode since Turn-To [in 1953]," he announced. "I would be proud to ride him in Kentucky. They might out-run him but they won't scare him. He's got guts."