In his last race, the Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas a month ago, Blushing John lost a shoe leaving the gate and still finished fourth, beaten by only two lengths.
Saturday at Pimlico, Blushing John took better care of his footwear and through the stretch he was a study in footwork. He shook off a familiar rival, Proper Reality, near the sixteenth pole and rolled to a two-length victory in track-record time in the $700,000 Pimlico Special before 16,211 fans in cool, overcast weather.
While winning $420,000 for his owner, Allen Paulson, the 4-year-old colt ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:53 1/5, breaking by a fifth of a second the official record that Tank’s Prospect set in winning the Preakness in 1985. The Daily Racing Form also credited Secretariat with a 1:53 2/5 when he won the Preakness in 1973. A suspect track timer clocked the eventual Triple Crown winner in only 1:55.
By finishing ahead of Proper Reality for the third time in less than two months, Blushing John sent Pat Day to a winner’s circle that the red-haired jockey would like to return to next Saturday, after he rides Easy Goer in the Preakness. Easy Goer and Day were upset by Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby and have a rematch coming up at Pimlico.
“I hope this is a prelude to next week,” Day said Saturday, before catching a plane to Kentucky.
Blushing John’s record came on a track that was wet earlier in the week and then dried out to become lightning-fast Saturday. Cheaper horses were routinely running six furlongs in times under 1:11, on a track where the record of 1:09 1/5 has stood for almost 20 years.
Blushing John carried 117 pounds, one less than Proper Reality, who went off at a surprising 13-1. After Proper Reality, it was 1 1/4 lengths back to Granacus, an 80-1 shot who finished a half-length ahead of Cryptoclearance. Top-weighted at 123 pounds, Cryptoclearance and his stablemate, Lustra, were the 8-5 favorites. Cryptoclearance was typically sluggish in the early going, trailing the pace-setting Slew City Slew by about 20 lengths going down the backstretch.
Following Cryptoclearance to the finish line, in order, were Brian’s Time, Saratoga Passage, Stalwars, Slew City Slew, Templar Hill, Lively One and Little Bold John. Lustra, running in the race solely to make sure that Slew City Slew didn’t run off to an uncontested early lead, broke poorly and after running with Slew City Slew for three-quarters of a mile was eased by jockey Tony Graell.
Blushing John paid $16.20, $11 and $8.40. Proper Reality paid $13.40 and $10 and Granacus returned $15.40.
Paulson, an aerospace executive who has farms in California, Kentucky and Georgia, privately bought Blushing John, a son of Blushing Groom and La Griffe, for $850,000 as a yearling. The horse was bred in Kentucky, but began his racing career in 1987 in Europe. There he won two of six starts, including a major race in France as a 3-year-old.
Blushing John’s first American appearance was a 10th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs last November. This spring, trainer Dick Lundy took Blushing John to Arkansas and raced him on dirt for the first time.
“He had trained so well on dirt,” Lundy said. “He had a good foot for it, and the first time we ever breezed him, at our training center in California, he handled the dirt super.”
Blushing John won an allowance race at Oaklawn Park, then moved into stakes competition there. He won the Razorback Handicap, finishing 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Proper Reality, who ran third as the 1-5 favorite. Slew City Slew beat both of those horses with a wire-to-wire performance in the roughly run Oaklawn Handicap, with Blushing John finishing fourth and Proper Reality fifth.
“He blew a shoe in the first jump that day,” Day said of Blushing John on Saturday. “He over-reached and lost it. So he had to run the race with three shoes. Today he had a faultless trip and he responded big when I asked him.”
Blushing John and Proper Reality were close to each other throughout the race Saturday. “We couldn’t have been more than three or four feet away from each other all the way, until the other horse pulled away,” said Jerry Bailey, Proper Reality’s jockey. “We didn’t plan it that way, that’s just the way it happened.”
There were fast fractions of 1:10 for six furlongs and 1:34 2/5 for a mile. Slew City Slew held the lead over Lustra and Little Bold John starting down the backstretch, with Blushing John and Proper Reality in close pursuit.
Turning for home, Slew City Slew started to weaken, and from the eighth pole home, it was a two-horse race. Proper Reality, on the inside but well away from the rail, drifted out slightly and brushed with Blushing John as they neared the sixteenth pole. However, the contact didn’t faze the winner.
Blushing John has a bright future on both dirt and grass, especially since he now knows how to run with all of his shoes on his feet.
Horse Racing Notes
Trainer Dick Lundy said there are no immediate plans for Blushing John, but the next objective is the Arlington Million, on the grass, on Sept. 3. . . . Imbibe, who finished second to Fire Maker in the Withers at Belmont Park last Wednesday, was in but is now out of next Saturday’s Preakness. Imbibe’s next race probably will be the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 28. . . . Northern Wolf is now a Preakness starter and Jo Jo Ladner, who rode him to a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, retains the mount. Ladner is currently serving a five- day suspension from the stewards at Churchill Downs for what they called a “careless” ride in the Derby.
Other Preakness starters are expected to be Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, Dansil, Hawkster, Houston, Pulverizing and Rock Point. . . . Sunday Silence, the Derby winner, might work five furlongs at Pimlico on Tuesday. . . . In other stakes at Pimlico Saturday, Kent Desormeaux rode Thirty Eight Go Go, at 2-5, to a three-length victory over Double Bunctious in the $100,000 Geisha Handicap and Montoya, under Laffit Pincay, paid $4 for winning the $37,450 Miss Preakness by 2 1/2 lengths over Another Boom and Cojinx, who dead-heated for second.