While European runners like Saggy and Citation's material grand sire are known for covering a distance of ground, as they say in racing talk, Saggy was a sprinter, usually running at distances of less than a mile, with the most common American sprint being three-quarters of a mile or six furlongs, a furlong being one-eighth of a mile. Some handicappers would say he was a "speed freak," and indeed there was truth to that. As a 2-year-old, he set a world record for 4 and a half furlongs, a mark that would stand for a decade. And, there was no question Saggy liked the track at Havre de Grace, according to many who had seen his earlier races.
Both the late Richard "Dacey" Lilley and the late Joseph Hendricks, of Havre de Grace, were working at the track that day and, more than 30 years later, both remembered well the day the record was set. In interviews in the early 1990s, Hendricks said it was matter of pride that a local horse had proven he was among the fastest of all time, while Lilley, who had dropped the starter's flag to start the timing of the record setting race, recalled that Saggy hadn't just broken the record, he had wiped it off the books. In the spring of 1948, Saggy had won seven of his nine lifetime starts and had been on the board, either second or third, in the other two.
Though the mile and sixteenth Chesapeake Stakes, with its $29,000 purse and longer distance, were the focus of the Joneses when they brought Citation to Havre de Grace, a decision was made to enter the prep race, the $12,000 Chesapeake Trial on the track's opening day card, mainly to give Arcaro a tuneup race on the colt. Their plan was fateful in a sense, because not only was the distance just six furlongs, but also it was raining and cold the day of the race and the track quickly turned to mud, another factor in Saggy's favor. While both horses had previously won on off-tracks (and Citation would win the Kentucky Derby on a muddy track), the conditions appeared to give some edge, however slight, to the sprinter, if he could get away from the gate quickly and grab the lead.
'It was exciting'
"I remember it, I mean as much as you can remember something when you were 14; it was exciting," says Allen Fair, 78, a lifelong Havre de Grace resident and successful businessman in his hometown. "It was a short race on a Monday, then they were going to have a longer race, maybe a mile five days later on Saturday. Citation was a famous horse."
What actually happened on the track that day has been the subject of debate and conjecture, even to this day. In the Associated Press' account of the running:
"Citation broke first out of the starting gate, but soon relinquished the lead to Saggy and High Ground Stable's Hefty. Saggy wore down Hefty before they came around the only turn, and as the pack entered the pay-off alley, it was Citation who moved up to challenge.
"Saggy was two lengths to the good as they came down to the finish. Jockey Arcaro shook up Citation at the furlong pole and continued to ride him hard, but the Calumet star had come up on the outside and couldn't make it."
Later in the story, the unnamed reporter wrote that Saggy had "covered the gooey six furlongs in a credible 1:12 2/5" and paid $10 to win, while the 1 to 4 Citation returned $2.20 for both place and show. "The heavy show betting, more than three times as much as gambled to win, cost the track $15,242 for a minus pool," the article also noted. The win price means that Saggy was bet down to 4 to 1, not a terribly long price against a so-called super horse, which tends to support the notion, alluded to earlier by David Craig, that the wiseguy gamblers and insiders at the track smelled an upset. (Three decades later when he "upset" Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Belmont Stakes, Coastal was also bet down to 4 to 1 against the 1 to 5 favorite.)
According to the AP account, "Arcaro claimed he got bumped by another horse. Said if 'Citation had a recent race under his belt, I would have driven him harder, but I didn't want to [sic] know the horse out and I don't think trainer Jimmy Jones wanted me to.' He said he would know better about Citation's derby prospects after Saturday and couldn't compare him now with My Request, which he rode to victory in the Experimental No. 2 at Jamaica last Saturday."
Other accounts from the post-race have said Arcaro bounded out of the saddle and immediately predicted he would win the Triple Crown aboard Citation, noting to anyone who would listen that the horse who had carried him and Citation wide in the turn, identified as Hefty in other stories, had committed a bumping foul. Because they had finished ahead of Hefty, however, and because Saggy was well in front of both when the alleged bumping occurred, Arcaro didn't have a foul claim. Nevertheless, the comment line in the past performance chart for Citation reads: "carried wide."
The account of the race in The Aegis mentions that Jimmy Jones kept complaining afterward about Hefty, who legend has it never bore out again in another race. Meanwhile, nothing was said in any of the press accounts, before or since, about the masterful job done by his trainer, L.E. Ogle, to get Saggy ready for the race.
"An old family friend, Joe Kelly, longtime turf writer and Maryland racing historian, who witnessed the race, claimed that everyone ganged-up on Citation, creating the big upset," Mike Pons said. "No matter what was said, Saggy beat Citation that day."
In the early 1980s, when he was working as a TV analyst on the Triple Crown series, Arcaro told this writer that he never had any doubt Citation was the better horse, nor was he willing to talk about the Saggy defeat in detail, other than to say in effect it was horse racing – and ancient horse racing at that – not putting any blame on his own ride, except to shake his head from side to side. Then again, Arcaro, who died in 1997 at age 81, is still the only jockey to win two Triple Crowns and continues to have more combined wins in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont that any other rider in history, so there was no need to retell the story of a relatively insignificant race, albeit one that remains a footnote to his brilliant career in the irons.
On that rainy day in Havre de Grace, there may have been 100,000 believers – or so we may believe years later from the many stories told by those who say they were there or knew someone in their family who were there – but the AP writer on the scene wasn't quite willing to join them, opining: "A truer comparison of the two derby hopes will come Saturday when they go in the mile and a sixteenth Chesapeake stakes. Saggy has always been noted for his sprinting ability, but if he should repeat over Citation in the longer distance there will have to be a radical revision in the derby book."
Well, there wasn't. Contested over a good track, Citation, sent off at 1-5 odds, won the race "easily," over three other horses who dared to challenge him. Bovard, who had been off the board in the Trial, was second and Dr. Almac was third, as he had been in the trial. Fourth, and last, was Saggy, more than 15 lengths behind the leader – essentially the equivalent of about three seconds. The winning time was a slow 1:45:4; Citation had run 1:48:4 in the Flamingo, a race that was a furlong longer.
Fair remembers also being at the track for the Chesapeake Stakes. Actually, he says, he was usually at the track every day when it was open in the spring and fall. "In the morning, before school, I would climb over the fence between the project and the backstretch and go over and walk horses," he said. "In the afternoons after school I would sell ice cream or soda pop, anything to earn a nickel or a dime."
Over the years, Fair has built up a large collection of memorabilia from the old track. He owns the track programs from both May 12 and May 17, 1948, and has a clubhouse menu from the latter date for the Chesapeake Stakes that features a photo of Citation on the front. "You wouldn't believe the prices," he said of the food.
"Because I saw those two races, I probably have more things about Citation, including photographs, than any of the other horses from those days," Fair said. He's also collected quite a bit from the career of 2011 North American Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, who was named for the old racetrack, including photographs from all nine of her career victories and a set of her silks obtained from her former owner Rick Porter.