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GAME BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

May 11, 1959
May 11, 1959

Table of Contents
May 11, 1959

On Playing Possum
Derby
Spectacle
  • Nevada's flamboyant desert flower is in full bloom, nourished by gambling's easy money and adorned with lavish shows

Boxing
Walker Cup
Summer: The Quarterly Sporting Look Preview
Baseball
Fishing
Las Vegas
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Pat On The Back

GAME BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

After a savage duel, Tomy Lee and Jockey Shoemaker—he of the magic hands—beat Sword Dancer by a few inches

Somehow—almost incredibly—the Kentucky Derby always manages to generate blazing and controversial excitement. Year in and year out the race sustains its uncanny ability to stimulate sporting frenzy. And the 85th Derby, contested at creaking old Churchill Downs last week, fell perfectly into this traditional pattern; the moment Tomy Lee burst across the finish line a scant nose in front of Sword Dancer the 1959 classic had taken its rightful place among the most sensational Derbies ever run.

This is an article from the May 11, 1959 issue Original Layout

The elements of suspense, nervous tension and eleventh-hour confusion were all there: 1) Willie Shoemaker justified his last-minute decision to ride Tomy Lee over Sword Dancer by turning in one of the most brilliant rides on this or any other track, and the manner in which he did it must certainly now make every racegoer from Jamaica to Tanforan more convinced than ever that this nerveless little man with the gifted hands deserves to climb another rung on that exclusive ladder reserved for truly great riders. 2) The second foul claim in Derby history—there was one in the wild days of 1880, and in 1933 Brokers Tip's Derby was so rough that the stewards initiated an "inquiry"—produced enough excitement to offset the disappointing performances by such prerace favorites as First Landing, Easy Spur and Our Dad. 3) The great showing of the four-horse California contingent, who, although not boasting a true California-bred among them, nonetheless put the West Coast racers across the line in first, fourth, fifth and sixth positions in a field of 17 which included the best performers gathered in Louisville from all winter combat fronts.

To say that Tomy Lee's victory was entirely due to Shoemaker's reinsmanship would be an injustice not only to the colt himself but also to everyone connected with him. Good race horses fit into a more or less general category known as "game." There are also race horses who are game beyond the call of duty, and Tomy Lee is surely one of these. For he was a sure loser heading down the homestretch, beaten by the onrushing Sword Dancer by a margin which at one time was a full half length. But then, after setting or helping to set nearly all the early pace of the race, Tomy Lee came on again. He engaged in a bumping duel with Sword Dancer for close to an eighth of a mile, a duel which produced not so much a series of individual collisions as a sort of continuous rubbing at extremely close quarters, and survived this encounter to go on and eke out his courageous triumph in the very last few yards.

It was a marvelous exhibition on the part of a horse who has never been completely sound in his underpinnings, and Tomy Lee's showing reflects happily on the patient training methods of Frank Childs, the 71-year-old horseman who trains Tomy Lee for Texas oilman and rancher Fred Turner Jr. Childs has never pushed Tomy Lee too fast. In fact, he has brought him along so skillfully that Tomy Lee, in 13 starts, has never finished worse than second (although a disqualification in last fall's Champagne moved him back to third).

As Childs, a soft-spoken, gray-haired man, went quietly about his Derby preparations with Tomy Lee at Churchill Downs last week, he was hardly the center of attraction. That honor was divided all over the crowded barn area among the also-rans and nonstarters. Up at one end, for example, was popular, loquacious Jimmy Jones. Jimmy had On-and-On, the hope of Calumet Farm. On Wednesday he announced with all the solemnity of an about-to-retire board chairman that On-and-On was definitely out of the Derby. On Thursday he put the colt back in the race. Then on Saturday he scratched him once and for all. Having already pre-empted more newspaper space than any of the real starters, Jimmy Jones made his position officially clear: "If the horse were mine I'd start him. But Mrs. Markey doesn't feel much like finishing up the track some place, so she'd as soon not run." With this on-again off-again business out of the way, Jones put On-and-On in another race on Saturday against ordinary colts, and though he managed to win a purse of $2,600, it appeared quite plain that Mrs. Markey knew exactly what she was about.

Down the line were Trainer Casey Hayes with First Landing and Reggie Cornell with Royal Orbit. Not far away were Bob Wheeler with the filly Silver Spoon, Charles Peoples with Troilus and Elliott Burch with Sword Dancer. All of them held court graciously in the morning for the hordes of newsmen and photographers. And some of them stall-walked like expectant fathers through most of the nights. In direct contrast to easygoing Frank Childs, who after over 50 years around horses was certainly not going to allow Tomy Lee's appearance in the Derby to lose him any sleep, was young Elliott Burch. A personable 35-year-old Yale man and a sports-writer for The Racing Form before going to work under his famous father, Preston Burch, at Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane's Brookmeade Stable, Elliott and his chestnut charge, Sword Dancer, were a center of attraction all week long. When he wasn't posing for pictures or answering questions, Elliott could be found pacing the floor of room 194 at the Standiford Motel, where he paused barely long enough to give part-time attention to a difficult jigsaw puzzle that he and his pretty wife Phyllis had set up in the room to take their minds off the running puzzle that was getting closer every day. But puzzle or no puzzle, Elliott Burch found himself forever wandering back to his favorite subject: Sword Dancer. He would say to anyone who asked—and lots of people did—"Sword Dancer may be little, but I'll tell you one thing: he's all heart."

Other Derby participants had ideas not only about Sword Dancer but about the rivals he would have to beat. Sitting around their motel bar, for example, Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro passed a few quiet hours before the arrival of their buddy Toots Shor by voicing different opinions. "The way you've got to drive First Landing to make him do practically anything nowadays," said Eddie, "makes me wonder if he's ever going to be a good horse." "He's still got to be the horse to beat," said Burch.

"The horse to beat," added Shoemaker, "is Sword Dancer. And the horse with the best chance of beating him is the one I'm on: Tomy Lee."

And there was healthy respect for the lone filly, too. "I watched her in California all winter," said Our Dad's trainer, Hirsch Jacobs, "and she is mighty good." Silver Spoon's owner-trainer team of C. V. Whitney and Bob Wheeler were optimistic but not overly so. "She'll disgrace nobody, that I can promise," said Wheeler. And she didn't, either.

Because of the claim of foul by Bill Boland against Shoemaker, resulting from their scrape down the stretch, the 85th Derby has in some quarters been falsely pictured as being one of the roughest ever. Actually, it was no rougher than most—and a good deal cleaner than many in which no thought of fouls entered anybody's mind. If there was any real misfortune during the running it occurred at the start, nearly two minutes before the cameras focused on the bump-and-grind act involving Tomy Lee and Sword Dancer. As the field of 17 broke from the gate at the head of the stretch, Open View, breaking from post position 13, cut over against Die Hard to his inside. John Bruce, the next horse in from them, ran smack into this traffic jam, and in the first split second of the race he went nearly to his knees. There and then ended any chance that Die Hard or John Bruce might have had.

While this disturbance was taking place, however, Troilus was pulling out from the middle of the pack to take the lead going by the stands the first time. Tomy Lee, who had broken away with him from the adjacent post, gave chase, followed by Atoll and Sword Dancer who, despite the bad luck of drawing post 14, got away alertly and was never worse than fourth at any time. Behind Sword Dancer were Open View, Finnegan, First Landing and Silver Spoon, all in secure positions.

But even going into that first turn Tomy Lee was up to his old trick of bearing out, a habit which has been characteristic of nearly every one of his races. As he went out slightly, Troilus took the rail and sped on out the first half mile in :47 3/5. Up the backstretch now they flew with Troilus, who was to stop cold shortly, still on the lead. But Tomy Lee was loping along almost effortlessly beside him with Atoll hanging on to third place and Sword Dancer right there, too, full of run and ready to prove it.

As they moved to the upper turn a new picture unfolded. Troilus was wearying, but now it was Arcaro on First Landing and Ray York on Silver Spoon who loomed up. The filly, running gamely, actually raced into third spot between the upper turn and the stretch. "When she turned it on for me then," said York later, "I really thought I was going to win."

"Well, I was fourth as we turned for home," said Arcaro, "and at that point I knew I was going to win. It wasn't until we got down to the 16th pole that he really quit on me and I knew I'd had it."

But trouble had been brewing ahead of Arcaro and York before then. Boland had put Sword Dancer into a narrow lead by the 5/8 pole, and it was there that for the first time, so he reported to the stewards later, that Tomy Lee first brushed him. As he rolled on by Tomy Lee, Boland could recognize a voice yelling at him—a voice that was so close that it couldn't have come from the roaring crowd. "He did hear a voice," testified Shoemaker. "It was me. We were riding as close as you can get, and as Boland went by me I yelled over at him, 'Go ahead; you can win it now.' "

"And by God, if I didn't think I could, too," said Boland. But he and Sword Dancer weren't home safely yet. With only a head margin over Tomy Lee as they straightened for home, the pair lined up as best they could for the quarter-mile run at $120,000. Soon the fireworks began. The bumpings took place between the 3/16th pole and the 16th pole, but right about the eighth pole, says Boland, "I was a neck ahead when Tomy Lee bore out and checked me hard with his shoulder. When he did, it sort of turned my horse in. He did it a couple of times again, and it knocked my horse all off stride."

"My horse was trying to bear out," admitted the Shoe, "but I think maybe Sword Dancer was coming in a bit, too." The film patrol pictures show indeed that while Tomy Lee did give Sword Dancer one good whack, after that the pair of them ran on home as a close-harnessed team and that neither colt could have been bothered more than the other. Bumps or no, it did little to stop the furious riding exhibition put on by both jocks. As they reached the 16th pole, Sword Dancer still led, but only by inches. Boland, who was to use his whip no fewer than 20 times in the last quarter of a mile, was driving his colt with life-and-death passion. Shoe, who was forced to switch his whip to the left hand when the stretch bumping began, gave Tomy Lee some sharp cracks, too, but the payoff came in the last 50 yards when Shoe put away his stick for good and finished off his brilliant run with a masterful hand ride which inch by inch drew him first even with Sword Dancer and finally—in those agonizing last few yards—gave him a victory by barely a nose. It was a breathtaking finish to be remembered always, and for Shoemaker one which had an infinitely happier ending than that of the 1957 Derby when Willie stood up in his irons aboard Gallant Man and lost his Derby to Iron Liege by exactly a nose.

PUZZLING CONSISTENCY

Of the others in the 85th Derby there is little to say. The sprinters, like Troilus and Atoll, did pretty much what was expected of them, but those with better distance prospects, like Our Dad (who finished 15th) and Easy Spur (13th) and Dunce (7th), had really no excuses at all. First Landing, in finishing third—beaten two-and-a-quarter lengths—was doubly consistent: 1) he has still never been out of the money, and 2) in seven starts this year he has yet to produce the form which won him every honor and 10 of 11 races in 1958. It could be, as Arcaro suggests in a tone devoid of any admiration, "that this sucker just hasn't any guts any more." It could also be that such strenuous campaigning at 2, topped off by such grueling tests as were put to him in both the Champagne and the Garden State (in both of which, incidentally, he was all out to beat Tomy Lee), could have permanently sapped First Landing of the courage and heart of which true champions are made. Still another possibility: First Landing is just another of many colts who isn't about to go a distance.

A special pat on the back does go to Silver Spoon. Her race was better than good; it was very good. In finishing fifth she was actually beaten less than four lengths for all the money. It is conceivable that she might have gotten third money if York had been able to withhold his drive a little longer. But there again the choice was not exactly his. After York saw Arcaro making his move, he almost had to go along with him. The results for both of them were the same: they nearly caught the leaders and then both ran out of gas.

Such reflections on what might have been are all well and good, but to put yourself in the mental position of a Derby jockey can sometimes be pure folly. One cannot avoid feeling, nonetheless, that if ever a rider had a Derby doped out properly that rider was Willie Shoemaker this year. Willie had the great advantage of having ridden both Tomy Lee and Sword Dancer, and this knowledge of his chief opposition was of great value. These two may be so close in ability that it took all of Shoe's knowledge and riding genius to turn a defeat by a nose into a victory by the same margin. Was it not clever, for instance, that Shoe, riding a horse who habitually bears out, kept Sword Dancer on his outside at all times? Not to detract an iota of credit from Boland, who is one of our finest riders, one still wonders whether Shoemaker on Sword Dancer (and he was offered the mount) would have sought some way to put himself between Tomy Lee and the rail.

At any rate, what might have developed into real unpleasantness turned instead into a genuine show of sportsmanship on all sides. And for Owner Fred Turner Jr. the day marked one of the biggest bargains of his life. For Tomy Lee was really not supposed to be this good. Back in 1956 Turner commissioned his Dublin agent Bert Kerr to buy a Tulyar weanling at Newmarket. The price he paid was about $25,000. After looking over the catalog, however, Turner noticed some Tudor Minstrels in the lot and sent hurried word to Kerr that he wouldn't mind picking one up if he could get it for $12,000 or less. Kerr did pick one up for $6,762. The $25,000 colt came to be named Tuleg, and he has done absolutely nothing. The afterthought colt for $6,762 was named Tomy Lee, and in addition to becoming only the second foreign-bred ever to win the Kentucky Derby he has now earned the grand total of $373,217, which even for a Texan is a little more than just walking-around money.

SIX ILLUSTRATIONSROBERT RIGERILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER1
START
HORSES HERE
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER13
8
1
10
1A
7
16
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER2
FINISH
HORSES HERE
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER8
13
1
10
1A
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER3
HORSES HERE
FINISH
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER5/16 POLE
8
10
4
5
7
1A
13
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER4
HORSES HERE
FINISH
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGERQUARTER POLE
8
10
5
7
4
1A
1
16
11
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGERHORSES HERE
FINISH
ILLUSTRATIONROBERT RIGER8
10
4
11
5
7
12
TWO PHOTOSSHOEMAKER INDICATES SECOND DERBY-WINNING RIDE WHILE BOLAND (RIGHT) JUST FAILED TO GET HIS SECOND BY INCHESPHOTOPHOTOGRAPHER Jerry Cooke stuck his camera through open doorway to get only picture of Shoemaker (left) and Boland awaiting stewards' decision. After longest delay in history of the Derby, officials disallowed Boland's claim of foul.

Artist Robert Riger and Turf Editor Whitney Tower, who present this unique analysis of the 85th Kentucky Derby, spent many hours after the race interviewing riders and stewards and studying the official film. Riger's drawings follow on the next four pages; Tower's report continues on page 20

Most dramatic moment of Derby came when Tomy Lee (right) bumped Sword Dancer decisively at the quarter pole. Both horses then bumped for nearly an eighth of a mile, causing Sword Dancer's rider, Bill Boland, to claim foul against Willie Shoemaker aboard Tomy Lee. After seeing films and interviewing both jockeys, stewards found that guilt had been mutual.

AT CLUBHOUSE TURN
Troilus 13 (see white box) has taken early lead while Shoemaker has hustled Tomy Lee 8 up to challenge ("Troilus came over on me at the first turn and I had to pull up for him"). Atoll 1 has also broken quickly from the gate and saved ground along the rail. Sword Dancer's Bill Boland, beset by an outside post position, brought his colt 10 up with the leaders ("I didn't particularly want to rush him, but he broke so good that I went on with quickly him, maybe a little too soon"). Open View 1A, entry mate of Atoll, Festival King 16 and Finnegan 7 are in closest pursuit.

Heading up backstretch, Shoemaker urges Tomy Lee 8 up on outside to get lead ("He seemed to want to be there" ). Troilus 13 begins to shuttle from first place to his ultimate last-place finish, and Rider Chris Rogers felt horse tire ("It was great for a while in front, but he went into reverse. He went from a pull to a drive in two jumps around the half-mile pole"). Atoll 1 hangs on along the rail while Boland has Sword Dancer 10, whom he found to be rank at the start, within striking distance of the leaders ("He was moving smoothly and keeping his mind on his business"). Open View 1A is in fifth position.

Reaching 5/16 pole, Sword Dancer 10 and Tomy Lee 8 are head and head. Sword Dancer appears to be running more powerfully and Shoemaker wishes Boland luck ("Go ahead, you can win it"). But Tomy Lee, Boland claims, came out and bumped Sword Dancer for the first time. First Landing 4 starts to rally while sentimental favorite Silver Spoon 5, under Jockey Ray York, gains ground on leaders ("We moved up easy and I thought she was running good. In fact, I thought for a second we were going to win it"). Troilus 13 is now tiring rapidly, Open View 1A and Finnegan 7 are still very much in contention.

ENTERING STRETCH
Tomy Lee 8 is just ahead of Sword Dancer 10 but Boland appears confident ("My horse was really flying. I thought we'd beat Tomy Lee by at least two lengths"). But Shoemaker, switching whip from right hand to left, perseveres with Tomy Lee ("He kind of gave it up on the turn, but then he started to come on again"). Eddie Arcaro has First Landing 4 in motion ("In the middle of the turn I had to pull out a bit and Open View [1A] hit me slightly"). Silver Spoon 5 starts to surrender to First Landing while Royal Orbit 11 launches a good stretch run. Finnegan 7 now has little chance.

Pounding to wire, Shoemaker's whip fans on left side of Tomy Lee's head 8 ("He came on again right on the money"). Boland is in an all-out thrust on Sword Dancer 10 ("My horse stopped a bit from the bumping, but then came on again when the bumping stopped, but it was too late"). First Landing 4 never exploded a convincing stretch rally for Eddie Arcaro ("He was hanging. We had plenty of room but the horse just quit running"). Royal Orbit 11 finished fast while Silver Spoon 5 and York were fifth ("She hung around the eighth pole, but she was not really overmatched"). Finnegan 7 was sixth with Dunce 12 seventh.