Nashua, 1955

I resume with Charles Hatton’s description of 1955 Horse of the Year Nashua from the 1956 American Racing Manual.

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American racing cherishes its classic events–the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Pimlico Special. These and other such idealistic fixtures are our counterparts of the Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the Grand Prix across the Atlantic. And across the years they have assumed a significance comparable to that of their European prototypes with respect both to their importance to the democratized Sports of Kings and its allied thoroughbred breeding industry. Not to make too sharp a point of it, but for every foal delivered in the British isles or on the Continent, a score or more are produced here. This makes for intense competition, and any colt who can emerge from the ranks to capture one of our traditional events warrants the praise that awaits him.

The system of racing in America make it economically prudent, not to say imperative, that we place more stress on handicap events than is customary throughout the rest of the turf world. Occasionally a mature horse, campaigning almost exclusively in this division, will prove so brilliant as to merit the season’s laurels. But the general ratio is about 4 to 1 in favor of those three-year-olds who win the classics, then authenticate their superiority against all comers in the “w-f-a” events.

Across the years Granville, War Admiral, Challedon, Whirlaway, Twilight Tear, Busher, Citation, Capot and others of their quality have thus qualified for topmost honors. Nashua was added to this exclusive company in 1955.

This came as no shocking upset to form students. On the contrary, the mahogany bay from the late William Woodward Sr.’s Belair Stud had been voted by the most ungenerous critics the champion of the previous year’s two-year-olds. Nashua developed rather extraordinarily from a growthy, unattractive weanling into a promising yearling and he continued to thrive at two and three. He won the Hopeful and Futurity at two and in ’55 accounted for the Flamingo, Florida Derby, Wood, Preakness, Belmont, Dwyer, Arlington Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Additionally, he avenged his defeat at the heels of Swaps in the Kentucky Derby by administering that colt a resounding reversal in their match race at Washington Park.

By the end of ’55, Nashua’s name had come to be synonymous with the best in horse flesh. He had established a new record of $752,550 for a singe campaign, increased his total to $945,415, within $140,345 of Citation’s world mark; had taken more than a second off Tom Fool’s challenging mile and three sixteenths track standard at Pimlico by winning the Preakness in 1:54 3/5, pricking his ears, and had proved completely impartial to track conditions or distance.

Difficult to Compare

It is an idle attempt to compare accurately the relative merits of champions who raced in different seasons and never met. Each new leader in his turn obviously has compared himself favorably with the horses of his own time, which would seem quite enough honor. So we shall not fatigue with some futile effort to rate the 1955 champion three-year-old and Horse of the Year with past title holders. Frankly, we have seen none who stood out in such perfection that he might be called a champion of champions.

An inquiring reporter did venture to ask Eddie Arcaro, who has ridden Nashua in most of his races, “How good is he?” Arcaro replied with a question, “How can anybody tell?” It is a good answer, for actually Nashua was not often extended.

Though the question of supremacy between horses who raced at different intervals is easily beggared, it is not difficult to compare their conformation and individualities. And it is our opinion that on this score Nashua is outstanding among the turf idols of recent years.

Most brilliant performers are visibly constructed by nature for their life’s work. Their temperaments and format represent a predisposition and grouping of faculties which equip them to achieve things beyond the capacities of most of their species. Nashua’s development is so pronounced that even the layman, seeing him come into the paddock, recognizes at once he is a horse of exceptional strength and character, a magnetic personality among those of his kind.

Though he is an individual of arresting size, standing 16.1 hands at the withers and with the substance to match, the Belair-bred “picks to pieces” well, as horsemen say when they imply one is difficult to fault. Many racing men of the most circumspect critical taste have inspected him minutely and have come away concurring in trainer James Fitzsimmons’ opinion, “He is one of the finest physical specimens I have ever seen.”

If pressed the “Sage of Sheepshead Bay” will say that he thinks he has seen horses that had prettier heads. Nashua’s is more forceful than patrician, like that of his grandsire Nearco. The profile is slight concave, as a thoroughbred’s is expected to be, with a broad forehead which bulges between the eyes, deep flat jowls, and a tapering muzzle. There is ample room for respiration at the throatlatch, which is wide and extends into an unusual lung cavity. The head is marked by a small, rather indistinct, star and this, with some stippling of white on his off fore pastern, represents his only variation of coloring.

Ears Set Rather Low

Perhaps Nashua’s head would have more aesthetic appeal for horse lovers if his ears were not set rather lower than usual on the poll, like those of his sire Nasrullah, and he sometimes carries them loosely. But then one is reminded that horses do not run on their heads. Nashua has a large, luminous and intelligent eye, which reflects his innate cheerfulness and playful friendliness. Rather insouciant at times, he can be a handful for his attendants, with his high-spirited antics but this observer, who has visited him often to spar with him across the webbing of his box, has never seen him do a mean thing.

The champion has good rein length and a neck somewhat more heavily crested than that of the average colt of his years. The neck extends gracefully and also imperceptibly into strong, well developed withers which in turn seems to range well into his back. This, together with a slightly arching loin and the abnormal muscular investiture across his hips, comes to exceptional power for carrying highweights big distances. One could shoot a marble down his back, as the saying goes and, seen from above, in the stands, he appears to be two horses wide. He weighs more than 1,200 pounds, which exceeds the weight of many retired stallions.

The scapula, or shoulder, is set at the most approved angle and is deep, with a narrow brisket which converges on a front fork, producing a maximum fluency of action. Nashua girth a full 72 inches, and his ribs are well sprung, affording ample room for heart and lungs. He has never been thought wanting in either. He is relatively short from his back ribs to his hip and stifle and has never appeared tucked up about the middle. That he is an enthusiastic “doer” goes without saying. The Horse of the Year has a long pelvis, and the sloping croup characteristic of Nasrullah, Nearco, Dante and others of his male line.

Nashua’s underpinning is a study, really something to inspire a sculptor. The legs are as unblemished as when he was foaled, despite his two busy campaigns in the best company over all sorts of tracks and distances. Most of our better three-year-olds succumb to the vicissitudes of campaigning in more or less serious degree before the end of the season. Nashua was as big and sturdy when he appeared for the Jockey Club Gold Cup as when he won the Flamingo. Soundness is indeed a virtue, and one that is too often overlooked by bloodstock interests.

Though the champion has tremendous substance bodily, his legs are those of the stayer. The muscles are long, strong and supple, without any of the exaggerated development to be noted in the one-dimensional sprinters. The forearms fit so there is no tying-in at the elbow. They extend into broad, well-defined flat knees which are just a trifle over. This angulation is to be found in many fast horses and those who withstand racing and training well. The cannons are relatively short, and this bone is flat, with excellent definition of tendons. The ankles and the angle and length of the pasterns hardly could be improved upon and his hoofs are sound, black and shapely, growing out of firm coronary bands and with well-developed frogs. He has the vestige of a splint, which apparently he always had.

The hind legs are fairly straight and there is evident drive in the long muscles of the gaskins, which seems to extend directly into the hock. They measure 17 3/4 inches. His hocks are broad and flat, with no suggestion of the slightest weakness. At a glance Nashua’s legs are those of the classic horse. The bone is dense, light and finely tempered, measuring eight inches. Too often the heavy-boned horses have underpinning that is soft and porous, ideal for bony growths and other mischief.

There is an engaging anecdote that one morning, when Nashua was picking grass beside the Belair stable, a car of trainers leaving the track for lunch spied him across the paddock fence. They all got out and went to the rail. The groom invited them to inspect his legs as long as they liked and tell him if they could discern anything wrong. They couldn’t though these jurors studied them intently for half an hour.

Literally reams have been written concerning Nashua’s temperament. He is an interesting subject; no such text book case as was the hot-eyed Whirlaway, however. Indeed he is the antitype of the washy, nervous, stall-walking species, though he does have imagination and a high order of equine IQ. The Nasrullah colt is completely relaxed in the paddock and at the gate, where he is usually first away, and nothing race horses do is ever likely to ruffle his poise. But he has a mind of his own, and jockey Arcaro has often remarked, “He fools me every time.”

The colt does unexpected things. For example, he will not respond to the whip but is likely to resent it and lose all interest if he is hit when he feels that he is doing his best. On other occasions, when he has been loafing, he will accelerate with a tremendous burst when roused with the stick. Then again he has a habit of measuring his rivals and will delay his run until his riders are virtually terrorized before setting sail, getting up in the providential nick of time, as he did when he defeated Summer Tan  in the final two strides of the Wood Memorial.

In fine, Nashua thinks racing is fun, and that it is sporting to run along on the pace or come from behind it, indulging his field with every opportunity. Clearly there is little difference to him between actual competition and his colthood romps through the fields.

The colt’s action is superb, approximating “the poetry of motion.” It is interesting that Arcaro says he has never ridden a horse having a smoother way of moving. And in this connection we recall that Sir Gordon Richards said that in his opinion Nasrullah had the most facile extended action of any of the many horses he rode in his 26 years as England’s leading jockey. Nashua is always in cadence, as the French say, and thus doubtless is a contributing factor to his success at varying distances and over firm or yielding surfaces. Incidentally, he had never even worked in the mud until the bugle blew for the Florida Derby, which was run in a quagmire, but handled the going like a veteran.

Nashua was foaled on April 14, 1952, and was reared until he was weaned at A. B. Hancock’s Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. His pedigree is an amalgam of some of the stoutest blood across the Atlantic. He is a son of the noted Nasrullah, who in turn was by the unbeaten Italian champion Nearco out of Mumtaz Begum, a daughter of Blenheim II and “the flying filly” Mumtaz Mahal.

Nashua’s dam, Segula, was a good winner in allowance company for Belair Stud. She is by Johnstown, who won the Derby and Belmont, out of Sekhmet, one of the foundation dams of the Woodward stud. It was the senior Woodward who said, “The success of a stud depends upon the quality of its mares,” and Sekhmet was typical of the producers who formed the nucleus of the former Jockey Club chairman’s haras. She was by the noted French stayer Sardanapale, whose name appears in the pedigrees of so many of his champions, out of the good producer Prosopopee.

Sekhmet was purchased originally to be bred to Sir Gallahad III, but it was from his grandson Johnstown that she produced the best of her issue. Nashua, incidentally, is a half-brother of the Gallorette winner Sabette, another indefatigable stayer and one of the ranking fillies of her day.

Nashua brought a record $1,251,200 from a syndicate at the Belair Stud dispersal in the winter of ’55, though no fertility tests had been made. The new owners planned for him to resume racing in ’56.

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Nashua did resume racing in 1956, though not as successfully as the year before. He won six of ten starts in 1956, including another renewal of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and earned $343,150 for the year. Swaps was 1956 Horse of the Year, but Nashua did pass Citation as the world’s leading money earner with $1,288,565 (surpassed a few years later by Round Table).

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