Remembering the Greats: NASHUA

Horse Racing Radar
Valerie Mellema
Valerie Mellema is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Friday, December 11, 2020

In the middle of the U-barn at Spendthrift Farm stands a statue of NASHUA being walked by his groom Clem Brooks. The statue marks the grave of the great stallion once resided there. 

At the track, he was intelligent and generally good-natured, although he had his quirks, as most racehorses do. On the farm in stud duty, he had become more aggressive and dangerous, but Clem had a special way with him and the pair held a solid bond. 

When you look at a horse like NASHUA, you really are looking at one of the great horses of American racing that shaped generations to come. By NASRULLAH, out of SEGULA, he was foaled in 1952 at Belair Stud. The farm was inherited by William Woodward, Jr. after his father passed away in 1953. Woodward Sr. had planned on sending NASHUA to England to race, but Woodward Jr. decided to focus on American racing and keep him in the U.S. Between the colt's third and fourth year of racing, he was put up for sale after Woodward Jr.'s wife shot him, she allegedly thought he was a burglar. After a bidding war, he was purchased by Leslie Comb II's Spendthrift Stud for $1,251,200 (a record sales price) and raced under Combs as a lease in his four-year-old season. NASHUA was trained by James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons.

NASHUA's race record is nothing short of spectacular, particularly for the 50s. Out of 30 starts, he had 22 wins, four seconds and 1 third with lifetime earnings of $1,288,565. While many of the stakes he won at the time are no longer run, there are several notable ones that still are. 

In 1954, he ran and won at Belmont, Saratoga, Aqueduct and Garden State, winning stakes races from five furlongs to six and a half. In 1955, he placed second in the Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness and Belmont. He also one the Arlington Classic, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial Jockey Club Gold Cup and Dwyer Stakes. 

1955 was also the year of one of racing's most memorable match races, something we never see these days. SWAPS had won four more admirable stakes races. Not only that, but just a week before the match race, he won on the grass holding off TRAFFIC JUDGE by a length in the American Derby. 

In the meantime, Fitzsimmons was looking at where NASHUA would race next. Typically, an East coast horse would go to the Travers, but that was a month away. It was announced in late July htat his next race would be a match race against SWAPS.

Eddie Arcaro was NASHUA's jockey, the only jockey at the time to have won two Triple Crowns. He was considered one of the best jockeys in history. At the age of 14, he began riding Thoroughbreds and his first race was in 1931. His career took off in 1938 when he won his first Kentucky Derby for Calumet Farms on LARWIN. Overall he had won seventeen legs of the Triple Crown and tied with Bill Hartack for five Derby victories. He won the Triple Crown on WHIRLAWAY in 1941 and on CITATION in 1948. When he placed second behind SWAPS and Bill Shoemaker in the 1955 Derby, a rivalry began. SWAPS did not race in either the Preakness or the Belmont that year, so it was only natural to put the two head to head in a match race. 

The match race was held in Chicago at Washington Park. And that's a story best watched here:

SWAPS' only defeat in 1955, the match race was ranked #6 in Horse Racing's Top 100 moments in 2006. 

In 1956, NASHUA continued his winning ways with the Monmouth Handicap, Widener Handicap and Suburban Handicap - all at 10 furlongs. Then he won the Grey Lag, another Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Camden Handicap and placed second in the Woodward. 

He was described as a horse that was not always eager to do his best, but a rugged race who could compete in top company from five furlongs to two miles. He had plenty of talent, not only on the track, but as a stud as well. He was the 1954 American champion 2-year-old male, the 1955 American champion 3-year-old male and the 1955 Horse of the Year. He was inducted in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1965. In an expert panel assembled by The Blood-Horse, he was rated as #24 among the top 100 American racehorses of the 20th century. He was also ranked second among American older males in 1956 by The Blood-Horse. 

While somewhat plain, he was described by Abram Hewit in Sire Lines as, "NASHUA may have been the strongest, most powerful three-year-old seen on the American Turf since Man O'War." He was big, standing just over 16.2 hands, but he wasn't always all business in races despite being enthusiastic in morning workouts. He had textbook legs and feet with exceptional power in the hips. 

On the pedigree side of things, he was a full brother to STAVROULA, who was a dam of the French Group 2 winner WITTGENSTEIN and the second dam to 1974 American Derby (G1) winn DETERMINE KING. She was fourth dam to the 1996 Preakness (G1) winner, LOUIS QUATORZE. He was also half brother to the 1953 Alabama Stakes winner SABETTE. His dam, SEGULA, was a hard-knocking mare winning 49 starts including the 1945 Coaching Club American Oaks. 

At the time of his retirement, he was the world's leading money-winning Thoroughbred and set the single season earnings record at 3 with $725,550. He made his final public appearance at Keeneland on October 18, 1956. That date was officially named "NASHUA Day" by Lexington mayor Shelby Kinkead. Leslie Combs II estimated that nearly 20,000 people came to Spendthrift Farm to see him and the main stallion barn was referred to as "NASHUA's Motel". His groom, Clem Brooks, would hand out thousands of autographed photos of him and the stallion to Spendthrift visitors as souvenirs and even sold his old horseshoes for $2 each! As a sire, he had 77 stakes winners and 433 winners from 649 named foals.

The sculpture that stands at Spendthrift today was made by Liza Tood and unveiled on July 18, 1984. The year before, the farm went public and fell on hard times and declared bankruptcy in 1988. Leslie Combs II died at the age of 88 in 1990.  It changed owners several times until 2004 when it was purchased by B. Wayne Hughes. Hughes is the billionaire co-founder and chairman of the self-storage company, Public Storage. He owns Spendthrift to this day and has established it a prominent player in the breeding industry offering unique incentive programs including "Share the Upside" and the "Safe Bet" program. These programs help to not only promote their stallions, but provide great value to breeders large and small. 

The farm is now over 1,200 acres and is home to several leading sires, the champion mare, BEHOLDER, and a new Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, AUTHENTIC. The U-barn, or Nashua Motel, has been completely refurbished and now houses several modern stars in stalls where the greats once lived including not only NASHUA, but also SEATTLE SLEW and AFFIRMED.


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