The 575 neatly manicured acres on the outskirts of Camden, N.J. very nearly reverberated to the same degree of tension and excitement that gripped and fascinated the world of the horseplayer when Nashua and Swaps had their celebrated match race at Washington Park two years ago. And in some ways the Trenton Handicap at Garden State last Saturday was even better than the match race. It had, for one thing, not two champions but three. Three skillful jockeys and three experienced and patient trainers. And some 40,000 fans intent on seeing—at long last—whether the classic cup horse Gallant Man, the take-on-all-comers Round Table or the phenomenal sprinting whizzer Bold Ruler deserved the title of best 3-year-old in the land.
The on-again-off-again meeting of this trio had an ample share of sectional interest. For example, Round Table, owned by Oklahoma City Oilman Travis M. Kerr, had been the hero of the Hollywood Park season, and thus, in a sense, he, like Swaps before him, took on the role of the California color-bearer. Gallant Man, winner of The Belmont and Jockey Club Gold Cup, carried another California hero, Willie Shoemaker, on his back sporting the silks of Texas Oilman Ralph Lowe. And the pride of the East was Bold Ruler, owned by Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, trained by lovable old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and ridden by Eddie Arcaro. They had won The Flamingo, Wood Memorial and Preakness but in two attempts to negotiate the Trenton distance of a mile-and-a-quarter had been soundly beaten. Now they were coming back with new-found confidence.
In a three-horse race a speed horse has an advantage only if he is not seriously challenged during the early running. If one of the other two horses elects to run with him both of them are taking a chance that they kill each other off and in so doing set up the race perfectly for the come-from-behind third horse.
In the case of the Trenton nobody figured to fool anybody. It was common knowledge that Bold Ruler would go to the front. Round Table would range along within striking distance, and Gallant Man would sit back until time for his move at the half-mile pole. Both Johnny Nerud and Willie Molter, who train Gal ant Man and Round Table respectively, knew that Bold Ruler was dangerous. "If he ever gets five or six lengths in front," said Nerud of Bold Ruler, "it'll be all over." Molter agreed. "Once he gets in front by that far, he just seems to float along, and there is no catching him."
The chief hope, then, for the Ruler's rivals seemed to lie in sticking close to him and also in a somewhat open-to-question belief that because Mr. Fitz's horse had never won at this distance he was incapable of doing so now. Arcaro had other ideas. "I don't think this horse has ever been as strong or as sound as he is right now. Furthermore, I know he can get the distance. You see, in both his other races at this distance there's been something wrong. In the Derby I tried to rate him, and he finally just quit on me. And even in the Woodward I fought him a little too much. The answer to riding this dude is not to raise up and fight him in any way. Just drop your hands on him and he's going to relax himself and lope along without any fight. The other boys won't let me wing off to any big lead—but if they do they'll sure be sorry. Another thing about this horse of mine: once they catch him they still got to pass him. When Gallant Man caught me at the quarter pole in the Woodward it took him till the eighth pole before he could get by me."
For Bold Ruler and Eddie Arcaro the question of being passed never came up last Saturday. When the gates were sprung The Master was gone and away—never to be headed or even seriously challenged. The great sprinter streaked past the stands the first time nearly four lengths in front of Round Table. He was a superb picture of power in motion with his tremendous stride eating up the ground in front of him as Arcaro sat perched almost motionless like a young boy being surely and swiftly run away with. That was the race. On the backside Bold Ruler had at one time eight lengths on Round Table and another two or so on Gallant Man before Shoemaker could get going. But by then it was too late. Gallant Man, to be sure, made up ground turning for home, but as he did so Bold Ruler, like any good horse, had given himself a breather and when they straightened for the stretch run Arcaro had only to flick his whip once by his horse's head and the pair of them coasted home—still strong and fresh—two lengths in front, with Round Table staggering along, over 10 lengths to the rear.
None of the three camps had any real excuse—before or after. Both Kerr and Lowe would have preferred the race to be run over a fast track (it was officially "good" and considered about one second off—which makes Bold Ruler's winning time of 2:01 3/5 excellent indeed), but the records showed that both had handled off-going with winning performances before—as had Bold Ruler. Jockey Willie Harmatz, on Round Table, complained that his horse was slipping and sliding around all the way, and Shoemaker had to admit that Arcaro had had his own way from start to finish and that there was nothing he or Gallant Man could do about it.
What this race will do in the way of vote-getting for championship honors in a few weeks remains to be seen. Before it Kerr, who had watched Round Table win 11 straight before the Trenton, had said confidently, "When it's all over I'm sure we'll be able to say the best horse won." After it Nerud said, "You have to consider Bold Ruler, but you always got to remember that he didn't win at the important distances."
Meanwhile Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons was making plans to put Bold Ruler in more races. Did he think his horse qualified as the champion? "I don't know why not," replied Mr. Fitz. "All he did was beat the two horses they were doing all that talking about. What more can he do?"
"For the things he can do," added Arcaro, "Bold Ruler is better than Nashua. This is a high-class horse. In fact he's grade A."