Alysheba Beats Forty Niner and a New York Jinx in Woodward
In the same Belmont Park tunnel where he had to explain how a million-dollar Triple Crown bonus slipped away by a dirty neck 15 months ago, trainer Jack Van Berg put on a happy face Saturday after Alysheba, his doughty 4-year-old colt, won the $831,000 Woodward Handicap against the strongest field to run in any horse race this year.
It was starting to rain harder outside, but in the tunnel between the track and the paddock, Van Berg was sunshine personified. “A year ago, I wanted to leave here and crawl in a hole in the ground” Van Berg said. “We let everybody down in the Belmont. And not only that, I had already spent my 10%.”
After winning the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, all Alysheba had to do was run third or better to win a $1-million Triple Crown bonus that goes to the horse with the most points for high finishes in the three spring 3-year-old stakes. Not only did Alysheba fail to sweep the series, he finished fourth, missing third by that neck, and Bet Twice, who won the Belmont, hauled off the bonus money.
The Woodward brought Alysheba back to Belmont Park for the first time since that race and back to New York for the first time since his distant sixth-place finish in the Travers at Saratoga a summer ago.
Before Saturday, Alysheba had won his eight races in five states--Kentucky, Maryland, Louisiana, California and New Jersey--but he was 0 for 2 in New York.
This time, Alysheba and his jockey, Chris McCarron, got it right. McCarron, determined to atone for last year’s Belmont, when he wouldn’t give Alysheba his head, let the free-running colt roll out of the gate Saturday.
In third place during a slow early pace, Alysheba was never more than three lengths behind the horses ahead of him--Waquoit and Forty Niner--and with an enduring, deliberate drive through the stretch he reached the wire a neck before Forty Niner in track-record time. The clocking of 1:59 2/5 for 1 miles broke by a fifth of a second the Belmont record that Silver Buck set in 1982.
Forty Niner, finishing second by less than a length for the fourth time this year, was a neck better than the 16-1 Waquoit, who had 1 lengths on Personal Flag. After that, the order of finish was Talinum, Cryptoclearance, Roi Normand and Brian’s Time.
Alysheba, the son of Alydar who cost $500,000 as a yearling, earned $498,600 for his 9th win in 24 starts--he’s 5 for 7 this year--and increased his purse total to about $31,000 short of the $5-million mark. Only John Henry, with almost $6.6 million, has earned more.
The favorite of the crowd of 22,521, on a fast track that was made even quicker by a light rain 20 minutes before post time, Alysheba paid $5.60, $3.60 and $3.20. Forty Niner, the 5-2 second choice, paid $3.80 and $3.20; Waquoit’s show price was $5, and a $2 exacta on the first two horses paid $18.20.
Before he dismounted for the ceremony in the winner’s circle, McCarron looked down at Van Berg and said: “He broke so good, I just let him go. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made in the Belmont.”
Alysheba carried high weight of 126 pounds, spotting Forty Niner 7 pounds. The winner raced without blinkers, which Van Berg had removed before his win in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park in New Jersey three weeks ago. And he also ran without Lasix, a medication for bleeders that some critics said had been the colt’s crutch outside New York, where medication isn’t permitted. Van Berg had voluntarily taken Alysheba off Lasix in the Iselin.
McCarron didn’t expect Alysheba to break with the gusto he showed Saturday. Before the Iselin, Alysheba seemed full of fire, but he dropped 11 lengths behind, and McCarron had to whip him 13 times through the stretch for a three-quarter-length win over Bet Twice.
“Today, he was docile,” McCarron said after the Woodward. “But then he acted like he wanted to run close. I wanted to be about 5 or 6 lengths back, but he showed such speed.”
Waquoit, holding a half-length lead on Forty Niner, ran the first half-mile in a leisurely 47 3/5. The fractions were 1:11 1/5 for 6 furlongs and 1:35 for a mile.
“That first half-mile was so slow that it’s about what Alysheba would do on his morning stroll,” Van Berg said.
Forty Niner, with Laffit Pincay aboard, was outside Waquoit, ridden by Jose Santos, and edged ahead at the top of the stretch. Alysheba was farther out, with Talinum trying to make a late run on his outside.
“I was asking my horse at the head of the lane,” McCarron said. “But I could tell that Forty Niner had quite a bit left. He’s as gritty a horse as I’ve ever ridden or seen.
“This was probably Alysheba’s best race. He beat a field of horses who if they ran by themselves in a stake would all be about 1-5 (in the odds).”
Woody Stephens, who trains Forty Niner, probably needs a win over older horses this fall if his colt is to beat the retired Risen Star for the year’s 3-year-old colt title.
“Laffit might have moved just a little too soon, but I don’t see how you fault my horse for this race,” Stephens said.”
Seth Hancock, Forty Niner’s breeder and owner, walked off the track with Stephens and said: “As close as we finished, our horse broke the track record, too.”
Stephens couldn’t resist another round of electioneering. “If this race doesn’t get best 3-year-old for my horse, I don’t know what would,” he said.
Pincay asked Forty Niner to dig in near the three-sixteenths pole. “He was trying to win until the very end,” the jockey said. “I was whipping him and riding him very hard. He was really responding. I thought I was going to win until I saw the other horse. I knew then I was in trouble. But even when I saw Alysheba, my horse was still trying.”
Waquoit has won 18 of 28 starts and finished in the money 6 other times. “He didn’t break as sharp,” Santos said. “He was standing up a little bit when they broke. But he still ran to the lead, and he stayed up there so long and was still fighting at the end.”
Van Berg regularly blows out Alysheba through the stretch for about a quarter-mile on the mornings of his races. Saturday, the trainer told the horse’s owners--Clarence and Dorothy Scharbauer and their daughter, Pamela--that Alysheba was sharp.
“He had as good a blowout this morning as he did the morning of the Kentucky Derby,” Van Berg said. “I thought he would gallop those horses to death last year in the Belmont. Then we had a big letdown. But you couldn’t blame the horse, and you couldn’t blame Chris, either. Nobody’s perfect.”
Saturday, McCarron turned in a perfect ride, the boos from last year turned to cheers, and the holes in the ground were safe from Jack Van Berg.
Horse Racing Notes
The Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs Nov. 5 is certain, but trainer Jack Van Berg and Alysheba’s owners will huddle today to determine if the colt will run before then. A probable race is the 1-mile Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 14. There are reports that the Meadowlands would increase the purse from $500,000 to $600,00 if Alysheba ran. With Forty Niner not expected to run until the Breeders’ Cup, the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 8 is shaping up as a million-dollar race for second-rate horses.
Epitome, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies but unraced since April, made up gobs of ground in the stretch at Belmont Saturday to win a six-furlong allowance in 1:10 1/5. . . . In the $128,000 Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont, there was almost a three-horse dead heat, but small noses separated the distaffers at the wire, with Gaily Gaily winning under Julie Krone and paying $157.80 for a $2 win ticket. Love You by Heart was second and Princely Proof, a 50-1 shot, ran third. The 4-5 favorite, Glowing Honor, led almost all the way but finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Princely Proof.
Parlay Me, ridden by Randy Romero, carried 125 pounds and won the Belmont’s $115,000 Fall Highweight Handicap by a head over Well Selected. High Brite and Play the King, the co-high weights at 135 pounds, ran third and fourth, respectively. Parlay Me paid $15.20. . . . Mining, the best sprinter in New York, stayed undefeated by winning his fifth straight Saturday, running 7 furlongs in 1:21 4/5.
Bet Twice’s owners are thinking about retiring the colt after his several disappointing races this year. . . . Both trainer John Veitch and jockey Angel Cordero said that Brian’s Time finished last in the Woodward because he never tried.
Talinum ran Saturday for the first time for his new owner, John Sikura, the 30-year-old owner of Hill ‘n Dale Farm in Lexington, Ky. Talinum was among the last of Nelson Bunker Hunt’s horses to be sold. The Dallas oil tycoon once raced horses all over the world and was one of Kentucky’s largest breeders. Hunt, recently found guilty of attempting to illegally corner the silver market in 1980, was forced to sell all of his horses and his farm holdings.