06/27/2013 3:14PM

History answers: Swaps the gold standard of the Golden State

Hollywood Park photo
Swaps wins the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1956, when he was named Horse of the Year.

See the questions HERE.

1. M. A. “Mesh” Tenney met Rex Ellsworth in 1915, when the Tenney family moved back to Arizona from Mexico and went to work for the Ellsworth Ranch.

Tenney and Ellsworth were born just one day apart in 1907, and the two became inseparable. When they began racing horses, there was little need for veterinarians, blacksmiths, or the like because Ellsworth and Tenney could do it all themselves. They were consummate cowboys, and later when they both headed their respective national standings, reporters who called the two “ex-cowboys” were quickly asked to drop the “ex.”

While Ellsworth would be listed as the breeder/owner and Tenney as trainer, the two were really partners who shared the success and wealth.

But each did gravitate to the area he liked the most. Ellsworth enjoyed finding stallions and broodmares and producing promising youngsters, whereas Tenney most liked developing horses into runners and caring for them when they needed attention.

Tenney trained primarily for Ellsworth from 1935 to 1973. He made a brief comeback in the mid-1980’s and was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1991.

2. Rex Ellsworth set his sights on Nasrullah, who was sold by Aga Khan III to Irish breeder Joe McGrath for $76,000 during World War II. But McGrath was not interested in selling to someone he sensed was an inexperienced Western cowboy.

While on his trip, Ellsworth was introduced to Prince Aly Khan, who talked him into purchasing Khaled, a well-bred son of Hyperion. The final price was $160,000, with Ellsworth borrowing nearly half of it.

Khaled became one of the great stallions to stand in California. In addition to Swaps, he sired 60 other stakes winners (12 percent of his progeny). Others by Khaled included Big Noise, Terrang, A Glitter, Linmold, and New Policy.

The one that got away, Nasrullah, was even better. Purchased by a syndicate headed by Arthur “Bull” Hancock of Claiborne Farm for $340,000, Nasrullah sired 98 stakes winners (nearly one in every four of his offspring). They included Nashua, Bold Ruler, Jaipur, Bald Eagle, and Bug Brush. In all, Nasrullah sired nine American champions.

3. While Nashua won three of his four encounters (each in a photo finish) with Summer Tan in their juvenile season in 1954, Frank E. Kilroe rated the champion one pound lower than that rival on his Experimental Free Handicap (128-127).

Near the end of 1954, Summer Tan nearly died from a blood clot but recovered. In his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, Summer Tan – in only his second race of the year – was outgamed in the last jump by Nashua in the Wood Memorial Stakes.

Meanwhile, Swaps won the Santa Anita Derby and then had not raced for 10 weeks when he turned up on opening day at Churchill Downs in the seven-furlong Jefferson Purse (renamed the Stepping Stone the following year).

Swaps was so impressive, missing the track record by one-fifth of a second, that he gained a major following and was co-favored with Nashua on Derby Day.

By post time, Nashua eventually dropped to 7-5, with Swaps going off at 5-2 and Summer Tan at 9-2. Swaps took the lead soon after the break and won by 1 1/2 lengths.

4. Benjamin J. Lindheimer, owner of Chicago-area tracks Arlington Park and Washington Park, got the Swaps and Nashua camps to agree to a match race at Washington Park on Wednesday, Aug. 31. (Saturday was out of the question because the crowd would be too large to handle.)

Called “The Match of the Century,” the event had much in common with a similar match in 1938 between Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

Swaps, like War Admiral, was heavily favored and expected to take the lead out of the gate and never look back. But Swaps, like War Admiral, broke a bit tardy and watched the opposing horse’s rider scream and holler to get his charge to take the lead.
Swaps was beaten by 6 1/2 lengths.

5. John Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky bought a one-half interest in Swaps for $1 million, but when Rex Ellsworth wanted to stand the stallion every other year in California, Galbreath’s wife bought the other half for another $1 million.

Swaps’ early years at stud showed tremendous promise. From his first crop came 1962 champion handicap mare Primonetta. His third crop produced Hall of Famer Affectionately and Chateaugay, who won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and was champion 3-year-old male in 1963.

Major success then eluded Swaps in the breeding shed. In the end, he sired 35 stakes winners, 8 percent of his offspring.
Swaps is buried in the gardens of the Kentucky Derby Museum.