BY JIM WELLS
The purse is $100,000, the racing is close the entire way. You separate from the field and set your horse’s nose toward the wire, only to discover there is another horse at your shoulder, eyeball to eyeball, stride for stride, over the final 150 yards of the stretch drive.
You are certain you’ve won until the jockey on the opposing horse contradicts the thought. It will take a calipers to determine a winner.
Racing doesn’t come any better.
Ask anyone who watched the Mystic Lake Mile on Saturday. Maybe even trainer Gary Scherer, who found himself running toward the winner’s circle. “And I don’t run,’’ he said. Later, he thrust his arms skyward when the results of the photo finish were announced and jumped in the air. “And I don’t jump,’’ he said.
A winner in a $100,000 race abrogates the word can’t from a person’s vocabulary. You still are unable to do many things you couldn’t do previously…but you’re willing to try, at least, to believe in anything. “I think I lost two pounds running,’’ Scherer said.
The chart of the race declares Scherer’s horse, Pumpkin Rumble, winner by a nose over Az Ridge, the defending champion in the race, the Mystic Lake Mile. That’s only because there isn’t another term to denote even smaller margins.
The start was the third of the year for the winner and first time he has finished on the board, enhancing his career earnings by $60,000 for a total of $181,806.
The horse’s owners, Al and Bill Ulwelling, were not present, reportedly at their lake cabin, but Scherer’s exclamatory response was all the representation necessary, enough enthusiasm to fulfill a requirement of this sort.
There were four horses favored in front of Pumpkin Rumble, sent off at 9-1. Az Ridge was favored at 2-1. Red Zeus, a 16-1 choice, finished third. The win gave rider Corey Lanerie a sweep of the two stakes on the card. The Mystic Lake Mile was preceded by the $100,000 Lady Canterbury, also at a mile on the turf.
Lanerie guided 7/5 favorite Kitty Wine to a 1 ¼ length victory over third choice Notte d’Oro in that one. A sweep of the two stakes made Lanerie’s trip from Churchill Downs a worthwhile journey. “Absolutely,’’ he said.
Kitty Wine ran just off the pace from the gate to the turn for home, where she rallied to take the lead at the stretch call and sustain it to the wire.
Lanerie had not expected Parc Monceau to be at the front, but his strategy remained the same nonetheless. He intended to run just off the lead and did just that.
WHEN TRIPLE CROWNS SLIP AWAY….
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who signed copies of his book at Canterbury Park on Saturday, went to New York in June of 1987 with a chance to saddle a Triple Crown winner.
Alysheba had won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, and Van Berg was certain he was superior to anyone in the Belmont field. “He could gallop faster than those other horses could run,’’ Van Berg recalled.
Which is precisely what he told jockey Chris McCarron in the paddock that day.
The question most asked of Van Berg in the years since, and a reasonable one it seems, was whether Alysheba could have won the race had he been allowed to run with Lasix, which he did in the two earlier Classic races.
New York did not allow Lasix at the time and many analysts figured that was a factor in Alysheba’s fourth place finish. Van Berg was asked Saturday if Alysheba would have won the Belmont had he been allowed the anti-bleeding drug.
“He would have won if he had had a jockey that day,’’ Van Berg said.
Van Berg was convinced Alysheba could have simply outrun the field, but McCarron put a hold on him and let Bet Twice, the eventual winner and second place horse in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, go to the front. Alysheba, rated most of the way, not only did not respond with his usual vigor when given his head but got caught in a traffic jam at the top of the stretch. Bet Twice went on to win by 14 lengths.
“Somehow he (Chris) got it in his head to hold the horse and he choked him and choked him,’’ Van Berg added. “Then he got turned sideways…’’
The consequence was clear.
“We could have had a Triple Crown winner,’’ Van Berg added.