Sports Illustrated interview by turf writer Whitney Tower
September 12th, 1955


 
September 12, 1955

Mr. Fitz's Story

Through Turf Editor Whitney Tower, SI asked Trainer James Fitzsimmons of Belair Stud to tell how Nashua was trained for the race with Swaps. Mr. Fitz graciously consented, and following is his account

I don't pretend to be a handy fellow at writing anything. I've been a trainer nearly all my life and I've never tried to write about any of the horses—either the good ones or the bad ones—I've trained. But if people are interested in Nashua, and if, as they say, he is the sort of horse that now "belongs to the public," I'm very glad to answer the obvious questions about how he won the match race. But the last thing I want is that my opinions on the subject be taken to mean that Nashua won because of anything special I, as his trainer, did.

Nashua's victory was simple—except for a little common sense. Nashua won because he is the best three-year-old in the country. He has beaten all the good three-year-olds there are, and although he has yet to prove his greatness—which he can only do by giving away weight and winning handicaps next year—I believe he may become one of the best.

Let's go back a bit. We had Nashua in Florida this winter. My orders from Mr. Woodward were simply to train this horse for campaigning—and the campaigning that he had in mind, I knew perfectly well, would be the toughest sort of campaigning possible: in other words the major Florida stakes, the Wood Memorial and then the triple crown, followed by the Arlington Classic and then on to Saratoga and back to New York for the important fall stakes. These were the sort of races the late Mr. Woodward Sr. would have wanted any good horse of his to enter, and so I knew I was going to do my best to see that Nashua was always ready for the toughest races.

Nashua got into wonderful condition in Florida. He was fit, and it seemed to me he was ready to run any distance. I still am very confident that he can run any distance although he's probably tougher to beat at anything over a mile and a quarter than in the shorter races.

After the Wood, which he won in a tough race against Summer Tan, we went to the Kentucky Derby. Nashua did not lose the Derby because of any fault of his. He lost it because I chucked it for him with my instructions to Eddie Arcaro to watch Summer Tan. I didn't know much about this horse Swaps, but a few fellows who thought they did told me they figured him for a mile or a mile-and-a-furlong horse—in other words one who probably wouldn't like the mile-and-a-quarter Derby distance. I was wrong to believe it. In that race we lay back—as it turned out we lay back too far—watching Summer Tan while Swaps did the first three-quarters in an easy 1:12 2/5.

[You don't have to understand horse racing's fractional times to enjoy a horse race, but it helps when reading the Daily Racing Form or when listening to horse trainers. Rough rule of thumb: good racing time is an average of 12 seconds for every furlong {eighth of a mile) for any event of a mile or over.—ED.]

When Eddie finally saw Summer Tan was not going to be the threat that I had said he would be, he went after Swaps. It was no use. Swaps had a good finishing kick, and we were cleanly licked. We had no excuse. I've never alibied for any loss and never will. But I figured I chucked that race, and I felt all along that things might be different if the two horses ever met again. I know Eddie felt the same, and I guess Mr. Woodward wanted another meeting about as bad as anyone else.

But a match race is something different. In principle I am opposed to match races. Too many things can go wrong, and if you duck out at the last minute you are accused of all sorts of things. In ordinary races, if your horse isn't right you just don't run him. In a match race there is a special obligation to see the thing through, even though a lot of things can suddenly come up which make the race a very untrue test. I don't like 'em, and I'd prefer to run against any kind of competition in almost any kind of a race except match races.

But a lot of people had been talking about a match race between Swaps and Nashua, so I wasn't too surprised when Mr. Woodward told me in July that the official announcement would probably come after we ran in the Arlington Classic. He said to me, "Mr. Fitz, we're going to be in a match race with Swaps on August 31, and I guess this is one that you, Eddie and I would like to win pretty bad."

I told him, sure, I'd like to win against Swaps, but what about the Saratoga season? I wanted him to put Nashua in the Travers at Saratoga. It's the oldest stake in the country and a good race to win—not so much for its value, but because of its prestige and tradition. Mr. Woodward Sr. used to like running in the Travers, and I thought it would be fitting to have Nashua go in it too. But Mr. Woodward gave me another answer. He said, "No, Mr. Fitz, I know what Saratoga means to you, but I want Nashua to come up to the match race without any competition following the Arlington Classic on July 16. We'll take him to Saratoga—but to train, not race."

Well, as I say, that was what Mr. Woodward wanted—so that's what we were going to do. And we did. Well, he was already in condition. He had been since we left Miami in March. We knew he could run a mile and a half because he had done it in the Belmont. We also knew he could run a mile and a quarter because he came back and did it in the Dwyer. So our problem between July 16 and August 31 was not one of training Nashua but one of not overtraining him. I knew he wouldn't get out of condition, but my worry was that I would overdo it. And, above all, I was afraid something might happen which might force us to withdraw. As it was, nothing did happen, and I was awfully glad because I didn't want Mr. Woodward to have to make any excuses or to pull out at the last minute.

At Saratoga, Nashua showed me that he was ready and seasoned. He is a hardy horse, muscled up good, and can take it. His works were very light, because, as I say, I didn't want to overdo it. We brought him along slowly: three-quarters of a mile in 1:17 2/5 on August 4; seven-eighths in an open gallop in 1:37 on August 6; three-quarters in 1:15 on August 9; and another seven-eighths in 1:34 4/5 on August 12. On August 15 he did an easy mile and a furlong in 2:02 2/5; and then on August 24, the day before we shipped to Chicago, I put Eddie on him and they went the full mile and a quarter in 2:05. I knew we were ready, and except for one more work at Washington Park (an eased-up mile in 1:39 on August 28) our only concern was holding him where he was.

The day of the match race I felt fairly confident. I figured we'd win if we ran my kind of a race. In match racing the purpose is to discover which is the best horse, and I wanted to find out in a hurry. I decided we were going to run from the jump, and whichever horse could take it would win. Some time ago I said that I wouldn't be surprised to see one horse win by a big margin when the other horse cracked. Well, I knew we were ready to run, and I didn't think we were going to do the cracking.

The inside post position may have given us a break, but I wouldn't have minded being on the outside. I did not tell Arcaro that he had to take the lead from the gate. What I did tell him was, "Keep Swaps busy." This meant that if Swaps outbroke us I still wanted Eddie to go right with him all the way. As it turned out, Eddie did get the jump on the other horse, and he followed my instructions perfectly. He ran the first half in :46, five-eighths in :58 and three-quarters in 1:10 2/5. There's quite a comparison between that kind of time on an off track and the 1:12 2/5 three-quarters that Swaps led off with in the Kentucky Derby on a fast track. But here's the point: in match racing the object is to make the other horse crack. Our final time of 2:04 1/5 isn't great, but it shouldn't matter. If you have great speed for the first half of a race you can't expect to have much left at the finish. I would have done the same thing in a mile-and-a-half race—or-a match race at any distance: run from the jump, and the horse who is ready to run will win.

Feeling as I do about match races, I was anxious to be rid of it but happy to win. I think what happened in Chicago last week was one of the biggest things racing has ever done, and the way that Mr. Lindheimer and the rest of them at Washington Park put on the race was a tribute to them. I have never received such courtesy in my life. All you had to do was think you wanted something—and there it was. The nicest people I ever met. They completely spoiled me.

I cannot close without a word about Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Tenney. They are two of the nicest fellows I ever met. I was sorry to hear after returning to New York that Swaps seems to have come up with a bad foot. I know both these fellows from California aren't the kind to make excuses for a losing race. An hour before the race it was my understanding that they pronounced their horse fit and ready to go. I did the same with my horse. Now I read in the papers where some turf writers are saying Swaps suffered an injury to his foot just after leaving the gate. Well, I'm not going to dispute the subject with anybody, but I do think this is hard to believe, because a horse who injures himself at the start of a race is simply not going to run almost neck and neck with another horse over a 1:10 2/5 six furlongs. If Swaps is hurt, and I'm the last person who would want to see him out of action, I think he may have injured himself during the last quarter of a mile—when he was already a beaten horse. I hope, for the sake of Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Tenney and everybody who loves racing, that Swaps mends quickly and gets back to racing.

As for Nashua's future, it's up to Mr. Woodward. I know the horse will go any distance, and I also remember our original aim down in Florida of training him for a heavy campaign. There's no reason why we can't go on with the campaign right now. Our next objectives may be the Sysonby at a mile and an eighth, the Lawrence Realization at a mile and five-eighths and then the Jockey Club Gold Cup—two miles.

If we win 'em all I guess we'll be up around Citation's record somewhere. Sure, I'd like to have the record money-winning horse. It's not so much for the money value, you understand—but I would like to see Mr. Woodward able some day to send a really good horse to stud. His father would have wanted it that way.