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Rider of Whirlaway and Citation dies at 81

November 15, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ Eddie Arcaro, whose brilliant career as a jockey included five Kentucky Derby victories and Triple Crown wins aboard Whirlaway and Citation, died Friday of liver cancer. He was 81.

After being hospitalized several weeks ago, Arcaro’s health began to decline rapidly in the last 10 days, his son, Bob, said.

Bob Arcaro said his father was hoping to get back into a saddle one more time.

``It was 10 days ago or nine days ago, he and I went out for a bowl of pasta and a salad,″ he said. ``We were talking about the jockeys of today, how great they were, how talented.

``He said, `I wish I had a shot to ride again soon.′ ... It’s something I’ll remember,″ he said.

Bob Arcaro said his father wanted to remain at home as his health deteriorated. His wife, Vera, and sister, Evelyn Maggio, of Cincinnati, were at his side.

Nicknamed ``The Master,″ Arcaro came into prominence as a rider in the mid-1930s and continued near the top of his profession until his retirement in 1961. Along the way, the tiny man with the banana-shaped nose that became his trademark, rode 4,779 winners, earning purses of $30,309,543.

Arcaro, who became a network television racing analyst following his retirement as a rider, had 24,092 mounts in a career that began in 1931 when he failed to win a single race on horses that earned a combined $200.

The 5-foot-3 Arcaro rode his first winner at Agua Caliente, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 1932.

But he wound up setting the Derby record with five winners, a mark later equaled by Bill Hartack, and won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes six times each. Those numbers are unchallenged, and Arcaro is the only jockey ever to ride two Triple Crown winners.

``But I don’t kid myself,″ he said when asked to sum up his career. ``I’ve been on many of the best horses. Take the best horse in any race and put any one of a dozen or more riders on him, and he’ll come through.″

Arcaro also conceded that by having the best mounts, he was under the most pressure to produce for owners such as Calumet Farms and C.V. Whitney. Other jockeys sometimes devised ways of stopping him and his simple riding philosophy: ``Never go outside of two or inside of one.″

Arcaro could be a tough customer. He had his license revoked for a year after a rough-riding episode in September 1942.

Mrs. Helen Whitney, who owned Greentree Stable, was in ill health when she wrote a letter to William Woodward, then head of The Jockey Club, asking that Arcaro be reinstated in 1943.

``I would like to see Eddie ride again before I die,″ she said and Arcaro’s license was returned.

Some of Arcaro’s great horses weren’t easy to ride. One example was Whirlaway in 1941.

``Whirlaway had a tendency to bolt when he was out in front, so the other riders figured I wouldn’t go out on the lead if I could help it,″ Arcaro said in recounting the Belmont ride that gave him his first Triple Crown.

``I planned to go to the front with Whirlaway if the leader went the first half in a slow :50. He did it in 49 4-5, and I shot my horse into the lead.″

He was in front by seven lengths and finally prevailed by 2 1/2 in field of four horses.

``The chart said Whirlaway won easily, but he didn’t. ... He was drunk at the wire,″ Arcaro said. ``The Belmont distance was really too much for him, but the slow pace I was able to maintain enabled him to stick it out.″

There were easier moments, but even Citation, whose 1948 Triple Crown was unmatched for 25 years, gave Arcaro a scare in the Belmont.

So sure was Arcaro that Citation would win that he boasted before the race: ``The only way I can lose this race is if I fall off my horse.″

Sure enough, Citation stumbled coming out of the gate that day, nearly unseating Arcaro. But he regained control and won the 1 1/2-mile race by eight lengths.

In addition to Whirlaway and Citation, Arcaro won the Kentucky Derby with Larwin in 1938, Hoop Jr. in 1945 and Hill Gail in 1952.

He also won the Preakness aboard Hill Prince in 1950; Bold in 1951; Nashua, who also won the Belmont in 1955; and Bold Ruler in 1957.

His other Belmont winners were Shut Out in 1942, Pavot in 1945 and One Count in 1952.

Arcaro rode other great horses as well _ Jaipur, Jewel’s Reward, Round Table, Sword Dancer, Traffic Judge and Kelso. However, he was partial to Citation and Nashua.

His loss on Nashua in the 1955 Kentucky Derby _ to Swaps and Bill Shoemaker _ was a stunner. The two jockeys met later that year with the result dramatically reversed in a match race at Chicago’s Arlington Park.

Arcaro, despite his belief that Nashua would win, said he was never tempted to bet on that or any other race.

``Never bet on anything you can’t afford to lose,″ he said. ``It’s a risky business.″

Shoemaker said he often spoke with Arcaro, the last time only last week.

``He hand-rode a horse better than anyone I ever saw. He was a very strong finisher,″ Shoemaker said from California’s Hollywood Park. ``In my opinion, he was one of the very best jockeys ever to ride professionally. ... He was a good friend for many, many years.″

Arcaro was born in Cincinnati, the son of an Italian immigrant cab driver. He quit school at 13 to work at the tracks.

``You’ll never make a jockey,″ the trainers repeatedly told him, banishing him to the tack room.

Arcaro galloped horses for $20 a month and often for no compensation at Latonia outside Cincinnati until trainer Clarence Davison took a liking to him.

Under Davison, Arcaro became the top apprentice rider in New Orleans in 1933.

In addition to his wife and son, Arcaro is survived by a daughter, Carolyn Zaslow, of Cohasset, Mass. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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