As humanely as possible, they gave the decisive needle to Nashua the other day, at the farm in Kentucky. As the horsemen say, when they try to be gentle about such things: "They put him down."

The old fellow had turned 30 last month and was having the miseries, and they probably made a good judgment.

They didn't put an end to the name, though, because it is firmly registered in horse history. Nashua put it there with his 22 winning races, most of them big ones.

Nashua evokes a shower of memories. He was a bit of a rogue of a horse who reveled in winning his races by noses and necks and heads. Didn't seem to like wide margins. Eddie Arcaro swore that Nashua liked to wait for horses to come to him in the stretch so he could show who was boss.

He didn't win the Derby for Arcaro in 1955, but he did penance for that by winning almost everything else on the 3-year-old calendar. Won races like the Flamingo, the Florida Derby, the Wood, the Preakness, the Belmont and the Arlington Classic. And the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, at 3 and 4. No bums do that, and very few win half of those races.

He didn't win the Derby because another good one licked him. He couldn't get to Swaps that day, couldn't make up that last length and a half. Some say there was a strategic miscalculation by the stable, which told Arcaro to have Summer Tan in mind, instead of Swaps.

But Nashua wasn't taking the Derby result as a final answer. In August when they hooked him up with Swaps at Chicago in America's most-remembered match race, one on one, it was Nashua the winner by six lengths.

He took the track away from Swaps at the start and was never caught. In the stretch, Arcaro was risking no chance that Nashua would take a notion to wait for Swaps to catch up a bit. With Nashua holding that six-length lead, Arcaro was still whipping at the wire. There was some talk that Swaps had a lame foot, but that will not be much remembered.

Going into that race, Swaps appeared to be fit. He had just reeled off nine straight victories and he was 3 to 5 to lick Nashua. The race gripped America. It was winner-take-all for $100,000. A legitimate, old-fashioned your-horse-against-my-horse contest that would get the winner everything, the loser nothing.

Whereas Arcaro was rewarded with 10 percent of the winning purse, or $10,000, Bill Shoemaker rode that 1 1/4 miles for $35, standard riding fee for finishing second. Harry Wiseman, his agent, reaped 10 percent of Shoemaker's fee, or $3.50, for his work.

It had been billed as East versus West, with Swaps, the California Comet, the boast of all Westerners. Nashua was the darling of New York racing and the rest of the East. Of Nashua's smashing victory, the late Walter Haight took note of the East-West rivalry, writing in The Washington Post: "Nashua threw the racing book at Swaps today and it made bad reading on the West Coast."

Nashua was owned by William Woodward Sr., the master of the Belair (Bowie, Md.) Stud where his sire Nasrullah was broken to saddle before him. Like his old man, Nashua was sometimes a strongheaded personality and practiced some shenanigans during a race.

It was colorful, English-born Humphrey Finney, with his facility for the language, who had a description that fit Nashua, a deep dark bay: "He had a beautiful front, excellent sloping shoulders. He stands on four well-placed legs, with plenty of bone, and good, big feet, and is an excellent mover. Well-ribbed, with good coupling. He has a good body and loin. The look of eagles in his eye."

Finney could fault Nashua only for his head. "Not quite classic. A little plain there."

Arcaro couldn't ride Nashua in the Wood Memorial because of a conflict in engagements, but he gave some advice to Ted Atkinson, who would have the mount. He alerted Atkinson to Nashua's habit of running a race as he pleased, of trying to bully other horses by sometimes lunging in, or out, as the situation called for. "You don't ride that horse, he rides you," Arcaro told Atkinson.

The horse they had to beat in the Wood was the fleet Summer Tan. Nashua didn't bring it off until the last five strides, finally winning it like a horse who suddenly remembered he had a bet on himself.

Arcaro has another story about Nashua, not necessarily true, but he likes to tell it of his ride in the Florida Derby. "I wanted more speed from him going into the backstretch so I whispered: 'Now, Nashua.' He gave me no response. On the far turn, I clucked again, saying: 'Now, Nashua.' No response. Same thing turning for home. Finally in midstretch, when I'm feeling quite helpless, it was Nashua saying: 'Now, Eddie,' and he turned it on. He decides."

Nashua put many dollar records into the books. First colt to win five $100,000 races. First stallion to sell for more than $1 million (brought $1,251,200 from the Leslie Combs syndicate and became the star of the Spendthrift Farm Stud). He elevated such respect for his dam, Segula, that she sold for $126,000, the record for a mare. Combs said that without Nashua, Spendthrift Farm wouldn't have been all that famous.

Nashua was such a success in stud that his progeny won 70 stakes by the end of 1980. His services to the 32-34 mares he romanced yearly were sold at first for $10,000 per affair, a record then, but the demand later was such that Spendthrift listed his services as "private," meaning only favored owners could bring their mares to him, at a price that was negotiable, upward of course.

In last year's racing, Nashua was represented by Noble Nashua, a good one, sired by the old boy when he was 27 and still showing zest for his role as papa. But these days it is a Nashua filly that is a very hot item in the auction rings. The records show that Nashua fillies become great broodmares, just as two generations ago a Discovery mare was the joy of any horse buyer. Good to know that Nashua will have a link with the future.