Havre de Grace sidetracked Citation Loss at Maryland track interrupted what would have been streak of 24

July 12, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The track was ankle-deep mud. The regular jockey, Albert Snider, recently had been lost at sea during a fishing trip.

Despite these ominous signs, no one believed for a second that Citation would lose the Chesapeake Trial Stakes at Havre de Grace on April 12, 1948.

Only four races into his 3-year-old season, Citation already was being heralded as perhaps the greatest horse in decades. Racing fans just assumed he would win the Kentucky Derby and maybe even become the country's eighth winner of the Triple Crown.

"I never thought about getting beat," recalls H.A. "Jimmy" Jones, Citation's trainer, now 89. "And the thing is, I didn't even need to run him in the Trial. But I'd given him a little vacation after the Flamingo and wanted him to get in a little work before the Derby."

Jones trained for the famous Calumet Farm, which owned Citation, and Havre de Grace was a regular stop for Calumet's great horses in the spring between the Florida and New York campaigns.

A half-century ago, the track at Havre de Grace was one of nine in Maryland. Each raced for a couple of weeks and then passed the baton onto the next track for refreshing changes of scenery.

Havre de Grace operated from 1912 to 1950, closing mainly because of competition from newly opened New Jersey tracks. It was a charming place, popular with horsemen who praised its "kind" racing surface and with fans wearing fedoras who arrived mainly by train from Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Joe Kelly, 78, racing writer for The Sun during the 1940s and '50s, describes it as "a big-league track in a country setting. You could sit in the grandstand and see the Susquehanna. The barn area sloped down to the water's edge. There was no more beautiful place in the spring than the barn area at Havre de Grace."

In 1948, the Chesapeake Trial Stakes at six furlongs, or three-quarters of a mile, was the opening-day feature of Havre de Grace's spring meet as well as a prelude to the 1 1/16-mile Chesapeake Stakes five days later. Back then, horses often raced with a few days rest, and Citation was slated for both local stakes.

Jones brought in hotshot jockey Eddie Arcaro to ride Citation. Bettors backed the handsome bay colt, who had won 12 of his 13 races (including seven in a row), so that a $2 win ticket would return $2.60.

As the six-horse field jumped from the starting gate, Citation jumped out first. But Arcaro pulled him back, tucking him in behind the three leaders.

"Eddie had never seen the horse," Jones says. "He wanted to get a feel of him. So he took him back at the break to see if he was good as I said he was.

"He was just galloping along down the backstretch. He was putting him in position where he had to run a little bit."

Arcaro asked Citation to run entering the final turn. He steered the colt to the outside. Why not the shorter, inside route?

"I didn't want to go inside a bunch of bums I could run around whenever I wanted to," Arcaro says, as if the answer were obvious.

But Hefty, a tiring front-runner, began drifting wide. He bumped Citation and then carried him around the bend -- "far out beyond the middle of the track when the field swung for home," wrote William "Bill" Boniface, The Baltimore Sun's racing editor.

A local horse named Saggy squirted into the lead. After breaking free of Hefty, Citation roared down the muddy homestretch. But his gallant pursuit fell one length short.

Jones and Arcaro were furious -- and still are.

"That was the worst case of rodeo tactics I ever saw," Jones says. "This little Hefty just carried Citation to the outside fence, right up against the outside rail, all the way around the turn. Eddie made up a lot of ground on Saggy, but hell, the race was over."

Asked whether he believes Hefty's jockey, Carson Kirk, impeded Citation on purpose, Jones snaps: "Certainly he did it intentionally. He was a wise guy, a real wise guy. I always $H wanted to hurt that boy some. But he beat me to it. He died."

Kirk always claimed he couldn't control his exhausted horse, who finished last. In the next day's Sun, Boniface wrote:

"In the jockeys' quarters after the Chesapeake Trial, Carson Kirk, who rode Hefty, tried to convince Arcaro that he was unable to keep his mount in a true course and it was the horse's fault, not his. . . . Arcaro was a hard fellow to convince."

Forty-eight years later, the 80-year-old Arcaro still isn't convinced. His following comment contains several gaps because, otherwise, it would burn a hole right through this newsprint.

". . . right it was intentional. Right down in my heart I think the . . . bet on Saggy. . . . Why else would they take the best horse in America to the . . . outside rail?"

Boniface, along with the other two Sunpapers writers at the race, Kelly and Snowden Carter, say they do not believe Hefty's jockey hindered Citation on purpose.

George Mohr, 80, who trained horses in Maryland for 60 years, also saw the race. He says this of Carson: "It's kind of hard to put larceny in a guy's heart. But that's race riding."

Jones and Arcaro -- and the turf writers as well -- say that if Arcaro had urged Citation, he might have caught Saggy anyway. But Jones had instructed Arcaro to take it easy on his young horse.

"I told him before the race," Jones says, " 'Don't whip this horse up now. If anything happens, I'd rather get beat than have you whip him all up.' "

And that's what happened on April 12, 1948. Citation got beat.

Five days later in the Chesapeake Stakes, he devoured Saggy for the first of what would stretch into a 16-race win streak -- a 20th-century record for a horse based in North America.

Had Citation not encountered trouble over that muddy track at Havre de Grace, ending his seven-race win string, that streak would be 24.

And Cigar, seeking his 16th straight victory in tomorrow's $1.05 million Arlington Citation Challenge, might be racing somewhere for a pile of cash, but not for a place in history.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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