On a mid-August afternoon in 1954 Sunny Jim
Fitzsimmons, who trained Triple Crown winners Gallant
Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935),
was seated in a camp chair not far from the shore of Lake
Desolation, his summer retreat near Saratoga in upstate
New York. Nashua was
four years old at the time, Bold Ruler two and Mr. Fitz 80.
A crutch rested on his legs, his bow tie was sprightly and
his blue eyes sparkled. When asked how many of the 1,001
ways to lose a horse race he could name, Fitzsimmons leaned
forward and said, "Probably all of them. And maybe
alphabetically, too. Acting up in the gate is one, altering
course another and away poorly a third. Then it gets real
good—blinkers slipped, blew the turn, blocked, bore in, bore
out, bothered, bumped. In the old days we had boy dropped
battery. I have had a horse hit by lightning when he was on
the lead, and I read about one that jumped the inner rail
and drowned in an infield lake. But there really are only
1,000 excuses a good trainer can use. The 1,001st, a trainer
never admits to. That is when someone else comes down the
pike with a better horse and just plain beats you."
owners have not had to resort to excuses so far. And it is
not likely that they will have to this Saturday, for the
heavy odds are that Slew will become the only classic colt
in the 102 years the events have been contested to go
unbeaten in the first 18 months of his racing career. Six of
the nine previous Triple Crown winners—Sir Barton, Gallant
Count Fleet, Assault and Secretariat—lost their first start.
War Admiral was beaten in his third, Whirlaway in his second
and Citation in his fifth. It seldom takes long.
Sir Barton lost his first six races, finally breaking his
maiden in the Kentucky
Derby. Omaha ran
for three years, two in this country and one in England,
and never was able to win three straight in one season. He
took the Derby and Preakness,
lost the Withers, then won the Belmont.
Only two Triple Crown winners got through their 3-year-old
seasons without a loss: War Admiral with eight victories and
Count Fleet with six. Overall, the Triple Crown winners
finished first in only 59% of their lifetime starts—168 of
Of the horses considered by experts to be "great"—only Count
Fleet and Citation of the Triple Crown colts are in this
category—just three retired unbeaten: American Eclipse
(1818-23) in eight starts, Colin (1907-08) in 15 and Tremont
(1886) in 13. So if people believe that one day soonSeattle Slew
will get his comeuppance, it is understandable.
Eight years ago this week Majestic Prince came into the Belmont walking
ring with a 9 for 9 record and victories in the Kentucky
Derby and Preakness.
He had lost 40 pounds since his win at Churchill
weeks before, and his legs were sore. Reluctantly obeying
the owner's orders, Trainer John
the colt. Majestic Prince finished second and broke down so
badly he never raced again.
Two years ago Ruffian came into the Belmont walking
ring with a 10 for 10 record for her foolish match race with
Foolish Pleasure. She snapped her sesamoids that afternoon
and had to be destroyed.
If Slew stretches his record to nine straight in the Belmont
will be a horse for the ages, one to build dreams on. Down
the road, however, stands a nightmare. That is Forego, who
may force the Taylors and the Hills to use the 1,001st