Belmont Race Report: Golden Strategy

Belmont Race Report: Golden Strategy
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
A change in tactics proved successful for Mandy's Gold in the Ruffian.
Published in the Sept. 21 issue of The Blood-Horse
In Thoroughbred racing, whenever a small-time trainer like Michael Gorham knocks off Bobby Frankel in a grade I race in New York, the tendency is to say David slew Goliath.

But in a sport where the meek often inherit the earth, such an occurrence never quite reaches biblical proportions. So, when the Delaware Park-based Mandy's Gold, a confirmed sprinter and the longest price in the field, upset the five-time grade I winner You in the 1 1/16-mile Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) on Sept. 14, it caused a few raised eyebrows and nothing more.

Even Gorham and his brother John, who owns Mandy's Gold, looked as if it were just another day at the office as they waited for their victorious filly to return. In their minds they had a very talented filly; they plotted a new strategy; and it worked. It was that simple. Neither even had the slightest desire to lead the filly into the winner's circle, leaving that honor to her groom.

"I didn't want to," John Gorham said bluntly. "The groom does all the work; let him have the glory. That's why I race under the name Steeplechase Farm. I don't need my name up in lights."

Although Gorham's stable name implies he's a member of the jump set, it's actually named after the street on which he lives--Steeplechase Circle.

Gorham, who works for a telecommunications company, lives in Boston and has nine horses in training with his brother. "I supply the funds and he picks them out," he said. "I leave everything up to him. I've been in the game since '96, and we've done very well. He puts a lot of time and effort into it. He watches the films and workouts and checks out the conformation."

Mike liked what he saw when he watched Mandy's Gold breeze before the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training at Timonium. "She breezed fast and she did it real easy," he said. "That's what got me interested. We wound up getting her for a pretty reasonable price at $87,000."

Mandy's Gold came into the Ruffian with eight victories in 14 starts, with another victory--last year's Comely Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct--taken away from her on a disqualification. The daughter of Gilded Time had never failed to finish in the money, while earning nearly $460,000. She had cracked the graded stakes barrier by winning the seven-furlong Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington and the Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. III) at Saratoga.

When she got caught up in a torrid speed duel in the Ballerina Handicap (gr. I) on Aug. 25, blazing a half in :44.11 before tiring slightly to finish third, the Gorhams decided to go for an all-out change in strategy. They stretched her out to 1 1/16 miles, farther than she'd ever raced before, and replaced Edgar Prado with Jose Santos, because Mike felt he was a "real good judge of pace." Then they made it known they would be coming from off the pace this time.

Although there were only five fillies entered in the Ruffian, it was a top-class field, with the participants accounting for a combined 28 stakes victories, 10 of them grade Is. Four of the starters--Mandy's Gold, You, Raging Fever, and Shine Again--had finished in the money in 60 of their 66 starts. The fifth, Minister's Baby, had won five of her eight starts since being turned over to trainer Kenny McPeek last fall.

Frankel was looking for a victory by You to put the daughter of You and I back in the race for 3-year-old filly honors. You, whom Frankel originally said would be put away for the year, had lost two of her three meetings with Farda Amiga, but those were at distances beyond her best. Frankel felt they shouldn't be held against her, and that a victory by You against older fillies should put her back at the head of the list.

"No one held it against Xtra Heat (last year's 3-year-old filly champ) when she only raced in sprints," Frankel said. "At least I had enough courage to try (You) at distances that didn't suit her. That should count for something."

Frankel knew the Ruffian would be a difficult task, and that he'd have to contend with Raging Fever early. "Raging Fever has got to go from the one post," he said in the paddock after saddling You. "I'm not worried about outrunning Mandy's Gold, because they said in the paper they want to take her back. That's why they put Santos on."

The morning of the race, Santos met with Mike Gorham, who said he'd be happy if they went a half in :46. Santos then went back to the jocks' room and watched tapes of several of Mandy's Gold's races.

Frankel had the race figured perfectly, as You went for the lead, quickly pressed along the inside by Raging Fever. Santos followed Gorham's game plan to perfection, easing her back off the pace. After a quarter in :22.64 and a half in a sizzling :45.25 over a surface a bit duller than usual, the speedy Mandy's Gold was running last, although only a couple of lengths off the lead, and pretty close to the :46 Gorham was hoping for. By comparison, in the six-furlong Floral Park Handicap (gr. III) earlier on the card, the brilliant Carson Hollow ran her half in :45.99.

You began to ease clear of Raging Fever passing the five-sixteenths pole, as Minister's Baby charged up on the outside and looked like the main danger. At the quarter pole, Santos sent Mandy's Gold around horses, and it was apparent the new strategy was working. You spurted to the lead after turning for home, but Mandy's Gold was flying on her outside. After taking control, Santos had to give her a good yank in midstretch to get her to change leads, and in the final furlong she increased her margin with every stride, winning by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:42.57, paying a generous $19.80.

"Jose did it exactly the way it should have been done," Mike Gorham said. "The Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) is a possibility. That's why we decided to stretch her out. Now that it looks like she can definitely get the distance, that might be the route to go."

For brother John, his involvement in racing was a natural progression from his early exposure to the sport growing up in Canton, Mass. "My father always had horses when he was younger, so from the day we were born, we were always around the track," he said. "Mike decided to get into the business full-time. I always loved it, but it was from the sidelines. Now that we're both in it, the more we do well, the more we'll get involved."

As for You, Frankel was not discouraged by the defeat. As he was leaving the track he ran into Bailey, and the two master technicians dissected the race like two skilled surgeons. Bailey said he had to make a split-second decision whether to go on with You and try to establish a clear lead.

"I didn't know if Johnny (Velazquez) could get (Raging Fever) back far enough," he told Frankel. "I had to make the decision in the second jump. I wanted to get to the front, then slow it up a little. I said, 'I'll give it one more jump and if he cranks her back I'm gonna do it.' I started to, but then he was there again. But she ran terrific. She really spurted turning for home, and did you see her gallop out? She just kept going."

Frankel then brought up the possibility of pointing for the Breeders' Cup Distaff. "Sometimes, you got to do what (D. Wayne) Lukas does," Frankel said. "You can't get down on a defeat. You just have to throw them right back in there.

"You know where Santos rode a great race? He could have gone with Minister's Baby, but he was smart. He let the other horse go and sucked back in last. That's what won him the race. I'm not discouraged. She fires all the time. But what am I gonna do? She ran great and got beat. That's the way life is."

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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