Preparing Horse for Derby is Nerve Wracking, James Fitzsimmons Says: Actually Only Saw Running That Omaha Won; Got Lost in Shuffle Other Years, Daily Racing Form, 1950-05-06


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Preparing Horse for Derby Is Nerve Wracking, James Fitzsimmons Says Actually Only Saw Running That Omaha Won; Got Lost In Shuffle Other Years By EVAN SHIPMAN AQUEDUCT, N. Y., May 5,— "Enjoy the Kentucky Derby?" the ve.teran "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons said," repeating our query. "Well, Ive enjoyed a few of them — after the race was over. But it was never a race to which Ive looked forward; too nerve wracking, all the worry that goes with getting a colt ready for it. And then, : : do you know, Ive actually seen only one running of the Kentucky Derby? Sure, Ive been at Louisville every time a colt from my stable started, but the only time I got more than just a brief glimpse of the horses was in 1935. That was Omahas year, and I was well seated that time in Mr. Hancocks box. "All the other years, beginning with the season I started Distraction, I seemed to get lost in the shuffle. It got to be a kind of joke down there, and the last time we won a Derby — Johnstowns year — friends of mine got me the best seat in the house, r — — ■ ■ or so they thought. I had a chair in a box that was low down, right in front of the judges stand. When the field got away, everybody got up on the chairs, and you know Im not built on very big lines," Mr. Fitz chuckled. Again I missed my Derby." "And when Mr. Woodward had Lord Derby as his guest for Gallant Fox renewal, you had to miss that, one, too? What a pity!" "Absolutely. I was in the centerfield when the Fox won, and maybe I saw them run a sixteenth of a mile, but I was not thinking about celebrities until later in the day when the race had been run." Shipman Recites Connors Story "Mr. Fitz," we were forced to break in. "You remind us of Chuck Connors story of the late Bob Smith. It seems that in Cavalcades year, Smith was never able to get out of the center of Louisville until the race was over and won. He first heard about Cavalcades victory downtown at the Brown Hotel. No way to get a cab, but trainer Smith begs a ride out from a car going in the direction of the track. As he seats himself beside the driver, Smith says, Do you know Im mighty fortunate to get this lift. Ive just won the Kentucky Derby with a colt from my barn. The driver slams on the breaks, turns to Smith and says, Get out. I never did like a liar. So poor Bob Smith had to walk." "My luck was never quite that bad," Mr. Smith said. "But I repeat, a trainer can hardly enjoy the Kentucky Derby until its Continued on Page Eighteen Preparing Horse for Derby Is Nerve Wracking, James Fitzsimmons Says Actually Only Saw Running i That Omaha Won; Got Lost In Shuffle Other Years Continued from Page Four over, no matter what the verdict is, but I do not have to worry about that this season. None of our colts quite made the grade." When Mr. Fitz says "we" in conversation about the stable, he means his sons, John and James, Jr., and his old-time crony, "Fish" Tappen. Standing in the lee of the long Fitzsimmons barn at Aqueduct, sheltered against the blustering early morning wind while watching the last of the sets at their work, was a family group, including, in addition to Mr. Fitz, James and John, who assist him with the training of the stable, and Johns son, James. That made three generations of James Fitzsimmons. And Mr. Fitz* old friend, "Fish" Tappen, who certainly must be called a member of the family after all these years of close association. After we had taken photographs of the clan. Mr. Fitz said, "Theres no sense at all standing out here in the cold. Come on in where its warm, and "Fish" and I will tell you about all the Derby horses, and a lot of others too, if youd like to listen." Turning to Mr. Fitz, hunched comfortably in his arm chair and now not much bigger than the lad who used to ride Beli-sarius, we asked, "What was the first Kentucky Derby you ever saw?" We thought in those far-off days he might well have made the trip to Louisville with one stable or another. "Never saw the race except when I started a colt in it," he answered. "My riding did not seem to include Derbys. THe first time I went to Louisville was to saddle Distraction." "Distraction could do plenty of running himself," Mr. Fitz said. "Now Ive won three Derbys— With Gallant Fox, Omaha and Johnstown while Ben Jones has won, let me see, five, and Derby Dick* Thompson had four. I may be prejudiced, probably am, but Ive always thought I should have, won five. Distraction was all but left in Reigh Counts year. It sounds funny, I know, but I still think we would have led him a merry chase and maybe beaten him if our colt had gotten away. "You know," he added, referring to the John D. Hertz entourage, "They were having their troubles that morning at Louisville with the chestnut colt. What was it, Fish, a knee, wasnt it? And they were tubbing him all the time from five oclock on. Anyway, Distraction could run plenty, and he didnt get his chance, but thats water under the bridge. "Then there was -Granville. I thought I could win with Granville. Still think so. And what happens? Messed up at the start, and off goes the boy. Max colt wins, and hes a good colt, of course. Then, the next week, I made a mistake, and Max* colt beats us again in an awfully tough Preak-ness. My mistake was that I didnt know how much work to give Granville between races, seeing what had happened in the Derby, and he was just a, trifle short. But Granville was quite a colt, and to prove it, all I have to say is that he beat Discovery, at weight for age, at Saratoga." Hoping that the "old master" would reply with the name of our own choice, Gallant Fox, who had commenced this formidable series, we inquired as to Mr. Fitz favorite Derby colt. "I guess you can say Gallant Fox," he answered. "But remember Gallant Fox was always a hard horse to judge. Hed do just what he had to do, and not a speck more. Always was a cold colt, butwhen those he met were good, the Fox was always a little better. Hed give you heart failure, but he won.

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