Although the margin was only three-quarters of a length, Dan Borislow's Toccet was in complete command through the stretch as he returned from an eight-month layoff to win the 1 1/16-mile Widener Stakes at Philadelphia Park Tuesday, a race written specifically for him.
With Jorge Chavez aboard, the 1-10 Toccet had little trouble holding off the determined bid of Ashmore, who was coming off two excellent performances in stakes at Monmouth Park and Delaware Park. It was a gap of 18 1/4 lengths back to Soze in the 5-horse field. Toccet covered the distance in 1:45 1/5 over the deep surface.
"He needed this race, big-time," trainer John Scanlan said. "I just wanted a nice easy breeze, and to see him come out of the starting gate again. He could have gone to the front and went wire-to-wire if Chop Chop wanted, but he's a good man and he knows the horse well. This is the one we wanted to get out of the way. This'll put him right on the map for Sept. 1."
Chavez is just as impressed with Toccet as he's always been. "He's a great horse," he said. "I've ridden so many good horses in my life, and some great horses, and this horse is something special for me. He showed me so much as a 2-year-old, I really believe he was going to be the Triple Crown winner. It's just a shame he got hurt. But now he's back, and hopefully we'll win a lot of races from now on. He felt like the same horse, but he did get a little tired after being out for eight months. You had to expect him to get tired, but he still has that same heart, and he's just a wonderful horse, one of the best I've ever ridden."
Now Scanlan and Borislow have to bring Toccet back in 13 days for the $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby against the Haskell, Blue Grass, and Louisiana Derby winner Peace Rules, trained by Bobby Frankel. Borislow was frank as usual in discussing his opposition.
"I think we'll demolish Peace Rules," he said. "Empire Maker is the horse we're looking for. I'll bet any amount Frankel and his crew want to put up on Peace Rules; I'll bet the purse. He's going to come out of this race really sharp."
Toccet broke alertly from the rail and stalked the front-running White Eagle Hall through solid fractions of :23 1/5 and :46 3/5. Chavez quickly disposed of the leader on the far turn, as Ashmore came charging up behind. He got to within Toccet's neck turning for home, but the favorite was never touched with the whip, as Chavez confidently hand-rode him to the wire.
There was no show wagering in the five-horse field, but an enormous minus place pool was created when Toccet took $270,841 of the $280,179 bet. Toccet paid $2.20 to win
and the exacta with Ashmore paid $2.60.