When Pat Day hops on the back of Easy Goer, the jockey's whip is excess baggage.
The only whipping connected with Easy Goer Saturday was his annihilation of another group of horses as he won the $568,000 Wood Memorial by three lengths at Aqueduct. Easy Goer did not flirt with world records for a change but still added another chapter to a career that will be a disappointment if he doesn't win the Kentucky Derby and sweep the Triple Crown.
Easy Goer's luster has grown so much that Day, trainer Shug McGaughey and even other jockeys were apologizing for the 3-year-old Alydar colt's victory Saturday. Easy Goer didn't win the Wood by 13 lengths, which was the margin of his victory in the Gotham here two weeks ago, and his time Saturday for 1 1/8 miles was not as astonishing as the mile in 1:32 2/5, which he ran in the previous race.
That clocking was only a fifth of a second slower than Dr. Fager's world record. In the Wood, Easy Goer was timed in 1:50 3/5, which wasn't close to the track record of 1:47 set by Riva Ridge as a 4-year-old under 130 pounds in 1973. Students of time were quick to point out, however, that Aqueduct was playing about two seconds faster than usual on Gotham day and about two seconds slower than normal Saturday, which makes Easy Goer's performance in the Wood considerably better than it seemed.
The Wood was run on a fast track, but slow times were the order of the day. Texian won the race before the Wood, the six-furlong Best Turn Stakes for 3- year-olds, in 1:12 2/5, a time that wouldn't have been fast enough to beat maidens here two weeks ago.
Angel Cordero, who finished last in the six-horse Wood with A.M. Swinger, congratulated Easy Goer's owner, 80-year-old Ogden Phipps, after the race and qualified the winner's time.
"This was still a fast time," Cordero said. "It was a very good time, because of the track and because the wind was against us all the way down the backstretch."
There was a headwind going down the backstretch and a crosswind working against the horses through the stretch.
Easy Goer ran closer to the lead than he's been in most of his races. He was second, less than a length behind Diamond Donnie, in the early part of the run down the backstretch. With little urging from Day--who has used the whip on Easy Goer only once in his nine races--Easy Goer moved past Diamond Donnie just before the quarter pole.
With Diamond Donnie dropping out of contention, there were horses on both sides of Easy Goer's flanks at the top of the stretch-- Rock Point on the outside and Triple Buck closer to the rail--but Day only scrubbed his mount with the whip as they dismissed these faint-hearted challenges.
The fractions were :48 3/5 for a half-mile, 1:13 2/5 for six furlongs and 1:38 2/5 for the mile, which means that Easy Goer ran the last eighth of a mile in an excellent :12 1/5. Easy Goer will have to run an eighth of a mile farther on May 6 in the Kentucky Derby, carrying the same 126 pounds that he and the others carried Saturday.
Rock Point finished second, a head before Triple Buck, and then it was 11 1/2 lengths back to the fourth-place finisher, Militron. Diamond Donnie and A.M. Swinger completed the order of finish.
Many in the crowd of 21,170 came mainly to make a show bet on Easy Goer. Of the $894,000 bet to show on the race, all but $27,000 was wagered on Easy Goer. Aqueduct wound up paying a New York-record $181,000 out of its own coffers to guarantee show bettors a nickel profit on every dollar, the minimum required by state law.
As the result of the show-pool imbalance, Easy Goer paid $2.20, $2.20 and $2.10, which was a dime more for win and place than he paid in the Gotham. Rock Point paid $3.60 and $2.10, and Triple Buck was $2.10 to show. Easy Goer earned $340,800 for his seventh win in nine starts, making last year's champion 2-year-old colt a millionaire with a total of $1.2 million.
"I know what some people are going to say," Day said. "They're going to say that the time wasn't so hot, that he didn't win by drawing off, and they're going to combine that with the two-turn thing and the Breeders' Cup. But I'm just as happy with this horse today as I was two weeks ago, even though he wasn't as explosive as he was in the Gotham. The only way I can describe him is unbelievable. I'll leave the rest of the adjectives up to those of you who do it for a living."
In his only other race around two turns before Saturday, Easy Goer finished second to Is It True in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last November. "This horse will like Churchill Downs (in the Derby) this time," McGaughey said. "I'm just glad this is over and we can move on to what we've been planning for a long time."
Easy Goer will be flown to Louisville on Wednesday for his final Derby preparations.
"Everything went perfectly today," McGaughey said after the Wood. "He handled two turns, he was laying close to the lead and leaving the eighth pole he took command. He had his ears pricked up and was just waiting for those other horses. And he didn't get tired. Pat said he was so full of run that he had to pull him up on the backside."
One clocker caught Easy Goer galloping out 1 1/4 miles--the Derby distance--in 2:03 4/5. That's only two-fifths of a second slower than what it took Alysheba, running all out, to win the Derby two years ago.
Horse Racing Notes
Some of the horses behind Easy Goer still has respectable paydays. Rock Point earned $124,960 for running second and Triple Buck's third was worth $68,180. . . . A $2 exacta on Easy Goer and Rock Point paid $8.20. . . . Chris Antley won by a neck on Texian over Mr. Nickerson, and added a second victory in Saturday's last race, extending his New York record to 58 straight days with at least one win.