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Trainer Lazaro Barrera was pacing near the finish line at Belmont Park last Saturday, waiting for Jockey Jacinto Vasquez to bring Lemhi Gold back to the winner's circle, when he and owner Aaron U. Jones spotted each other through the crowd. The smiling Jones seemed levitated as he approached his trainer. There's nothing quite like winning nearly a quarter of a million dollars in two minutes to lift a man's feet off the ground. Seeing Barrera, he threw his arms in the air. In reply, Barrera held out two fists and pumped them vigorously, twice. Jones reached out and the two men embraced.
"I told you you'd do it, you son of a gun!" Jones said. "You've got to have faith in me."
Jones had good reason to crow, because Lemhi Gold, a 4-year-old colt that he had bred, raised and named, had just beaten the three most vaunted horses in the country and made off with the $400,000 Marlboro Cup Handicap.
The Marlboro is a mile and a quarter, the classic distance in America, and Lemhi had to hustle over every inch of it to win. He stalked the pace-setting Pair of Deuces from the drop of the flag to the backstretch straight, started breathing on him as they raced to the three-quarter pole, took him by the throat as they rushed off the turn for home and then shook him loose as he pleased through the stretch, winning by 8� lengths in a commendable 2:01, paying $17.
"I just couldn't keep up with him," said Eddie Maple, the rider of Pair of Deuces, the 28-1 shot who faded to third. The stretch-running Silver Supreme, who went off at 16-1, passed a lot of wet sails to finish second.
Timely Writer, the tepid 2-1 favorite, never threatened and finished seventh, while the 5-2 second choice, Silver Buck, ended up fourth. Perrault, the third choice at 7-2, made a fight of it early but injured himself, apparently at the far turn, forcing Laffit Pincay Jr. to pull him up in the stretch. Muttering, at 4-1, ran the last three furlongs on empty, finishing sixth under Bill Shoemaker. "No excuse," The Shoe said. It's the One, Lemhi Gold's gifted stablemate, ran as if he hadn't run in two months—which he hadn't—and came in fifth.
Thus, the three horses generally given the least chance to win the Marlboro Cup finished 1-2-3, while the four main contenders—excepting Perrault—were outrun from wire to wire. The race thoroughly confused what it was supposed to clarify—who would be Horse of the Year. With the ballyhooed Timely Writer, Perrault and Silver Buck shot down, the retired Conquistador Cielo, who finished third in last month's Travers, isn't out of it. Blame Lemhi Gold.
"This is the second-best horse I ever trained," said the 57-year-old Barrera, a Hall of Fame trainer who conditioned 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Bold Forbes and several other major stakes champions. "First Affirmed, second Lemhi Gold."
And this comes in praise of a horse that wasn't even on the original invitation list for the Marlboro Cup. In fact, Barrera would have preferred to pass the Marlboro and aim for the $150,000 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 3. The Man o' War is run on grass, and Lemhi Gold is already a candidate for the American grass championship.