- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
To many observers, indeed, it seemed a great deal of trouble to go through for the likes of Bel Bolide and Madam Gay, neither of whom is rated highly in English racing circles, though the latter, a filly of uneven performance, won the Prix de Diane this season and ran second to the great Shergar in the King George VI Stakes at Ascot in July.
Of the other Europeans, there was Argument, the French colt who last year won the Washington, D.C. International and was narrowly beaten in the Arc, but who fared poorly in 1981. And there was Fingal's Cave, who was notoriously ineffective in heavy going, which seemed likely to be underfoot on Sunday. But all of them were overshadowed by a U.S. horse who, so his exercise rider said, "gallops like an old cow." This was Luis Cenicola, and he was speaking of John Henry, America's finest grass horse. But Cenicola meant nothing derogatory. "Other horses are tough on themselves," he went on, meaning that John Henry works superlatively well on the right occasions—he had won a career $1,864,510 and threatened both Affirmed's $2,393,818 and Spectacular Bid's record $2,781,607.
Only the rain, it seemed, could stop John Henry. "The only trouble is the condition of the track," said assistant trainer Eduardo Inda, pointing out that John Henry has always had a firm grass surface in California. Nevertheless, the late-week odds in London went from 7-2 to 2-1. At the same time, the odds on Arlington's favorite son, Rossi Gold, had been shortened by proud Chicagoans to 6-1 at Ladbrokes of London.
On Saturday, however, something strange happened in Arlington. The sun came out. And when it continued to shine on Sunday, the odds firmed yet again on John Henry—in London they had moved to 7-4, and at the track to 9-5. There had also been more attrition in the ranks. First the Canadian horse, Ben Fab, was scratched, and then that cosseted traveler, Bel Bolide, dropped out because of an abscessed hoof, which must have yielded a moment of exquisite irony to the beleaguered Shelley. By post time the grass had dried out a little, but it was still tall enough to make a good cash crop if cut for hay. "Favors the Europeans," Shoemaker said in the paddock before he swung his leg over John Henry. As it happened, Shoemaker was within about an eighth of an inch of needing that alibi.
After John Henry broke—he had drawn the outside position—he was away wide and in eighth place at the first turn. Battling it out for the lead were Key to Content and a 40-1 shot, Kentucky-bred The Bart.
"I thought I'd be lying second or third, not that far away," Shoemaker said after the race, and trainer Ron McAnally agreed. "I didn't want him to go out on the pace," McAnally said, "but I didn't want him that far back."
It wasn't until the last bend that John Henry came into contention, charging through an inside gap that Piggott and Madam Gay had opened. At that point, Shoemaker said, he thought he would win handily—"There was an awful lot of horse still left in The Bart, but I thought I would be going in front easy."
He didn't, and right up to the wire the bright red silks of Eddie Delahoussaye on The Bart stayed in the lead. If the Arlington Million had looked at times like a great brouhaha over nothing much, the great stretch run at the end made up for a lot. "I thought I nipped him at the wire," Shoemaker said, but nobody else at Arlington Park could be even that certain until the finish photo was examined. It showed there wasn't much more than one horse's hot breath in front—and that breath was John Henry's.
Whatever happens in the future to Arlington's Million, his hard-earned $600,000 took John Henry's career earnings to $2,464,510 and put the Bid's record in jeopardy. John Henry—"Jack" to his trainer—now goes back to California and a rest. The horse, in fact, turned out greater than the race.