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Classic Kentucky Derby
Arcaro was 'Master' of Triple Crown
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
There is nothing more special in horse racing than the Triple Crown races, and no jockey was ever more special in these classics than Eddie Arcaro. In a span of 18 years, the rider known as "The Master" rode a record 17 winners in these races for 3-year-olds and became the only jockey to be aboard two Triple Crown champions (Whirlaway and Citation).
Arcaro rode five Kentucky Derby winners -- a record he shares with Bill Hartack -- a record six Preakness winners and six Belmont winners. The latter feat tied 19th century jockey Jimmy McLaughlin for most victories in the Belmont.
Smart, aggressive and strong, Arcaro was the country's leading rider in the money six times (1940, 1942, 1948, 1950, 1952 and 1955). "Eddie was special," said Ben Jones, whose six Kentucky Derby victories are the most by any trainer. "He was a real athlete. With his coordination, his judgment and his power at the end of a race, he was the best. He also was very good to work with. He'd follow orders and made it a real team effort."
Arcaro was born Feb. 19, 1916 in Cincinnati. He left school at 14 to become an exercise boy, and at 15 he became a jockey. He rode his first race on May 18, 1931 at the old Bainbridge Park near Cleveland, but it wasn't until Jan.14, 1932, at Agua Caliente in Mexico, that he rode his first winner.
The next year he was the leading apprentice jockey at New Orleans, but he missed three months of riding that year with a fractured skull and punctured lung suffered during a fall in Chicago. He began riding for Calumet Farm in 1934, and in the next few years he established himself as a top jockey.
His first victory in a Triple Crown race came in 1938 -- on Lawrin in the Kentucky Derby. Three years later, riding Whirlaway, Arcaro won his first Triple Crown. In winning the Derby, Whirlaway clocked a then-record 2:01 2/5 for the 1¼-mile race.
Arcaro had the opportunity to make it three Derbies in five years when Greentree Stables in 1942 let him choose between Shut Out and Devil Diver. He took Devil Diver and finished sixth, while Shut Out won. At Belmont, however, Arcaro was atop winning Shut Out.
In 1945, Arcaro won two Triple Crown races with two horses, capturing the Derby with Hoop Jr., and the Belmont with Pavot. Three years later, Arcaro was the beneficiary of the disappearance of a friend and fellow jockey to win his second Triple Crown. Albert Snider, Citation's jockey, went boating one day and never returned, presumed lost at sea. Jones gave Arcaro the choice of riding Citation or Coaltown, whom he had ridden early in 1948. Arcaro picked Citation, and the horse responded by winning the Derby (Coaltown was second), Preakness and Belmont. After the Derby, Arcaro gave half of his earnings to Snider's widow.
Arcaro set a record with $1,686,230 in winnings that year. He won the Preakness back-to-back in 1950 and 1951 aboard Hill Prince and Bold. In 1952, he won two more Triple Crown races, guiding Hill Gail in the Derby and One Count in the Belmont, on his way to breaking his own record with $1,859,591 in winnings.
At the age of 39 in 1955, Arcaro was involved in one of the top racing rivalries. Nashua, with Arcaro aboard, raced to a second-place finish behind Swaps in the Derby, but then won the Preakness and Belmont, neither of which Swaps ran. That set up a $100,000 winner-take-all match race between the outstanding 3-year-olds, and Arcaro rode Nashua to an easy victory.
Even though he had ridden such great champions as Whirlaway, Citation and Nashua, Arcaro had not yet had his finest mount.
"I believe Kelso was the best horse I ever rode," Arcaro said. "He was Horse of the Year five straight years (1960-64), and that takes a lot of doing. And he hooked everybody, every place, on every kind of racetrack. He just was the best horse. Sprint, go a distance, run all day, He could do it all."
Of his 14 races aboard Kelso, Arcaro won 12. With Arcaro as his rider, Kelso twice set a track record and twice equaled a track record.
Arcaro, who was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1958, rode his last race at the age of 45 on Nov. 18, 1961. In 24,092 races, Arcaro had 4,779 wins, 3,807 seconds 3,302 thirds and earnings of $30,039,543. His record of 554 stakes victories stood for 11 years, until Willie Shoemaker broke it in 1972.
After retiring, Arcaro served as a television commentator and a public relations man for the Golden Nugget Casinos. He died at the age of 81 on Nov. 14, 1997.
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