Fair Grounds Report: All Inclusive
Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2001 11:22 AM
Published in the March 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
Posted: Sunday, March 4, 2001 5:34 PM
The voice over the public address system said, "Bring your horses over for the eighth race." Trainer Grover (Bud) Delp had brought hundreds of horses over for the eighth race and was in no hurry. In his mind, this horse was special and everything had to be perfect.
The object of Delp's attention was the improving 4-year-old Include. The handsome son of Broad Brush stood in his stall like a gentleman while the groom applied the moistened tongue-tie and slipped a set of yellow blinkers over the colt's head. "He can be a handful," Delp said, "so we tack him up in the stall. That seems to keep him in a frame of mind where he is relaxed and focused at the same time. It's not standard procedure but you have to do it the way the horse tells you."
All the fuss over Include resembled the preparations of a gladiator about to step into the arena. His groom, Ramiro Barajas, was bobbing and weaving on the cushion of fresh wood chips and following the concise instructions of Delp. Every move was methodical. "Bueno suerte, compadre," another groom hollered at Barajas as they walked out into the sunlight. Let the games begin.
There were only five horses in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) on March 3 and the wise guys insisted it was a race between two horses: Valhol and Include. Valhol, the starting highweight, was in top form after two solid performances over the track. Trained by Dallas Keen, Valhol appeared ready to step up and be recognized for his talent, not his checkered past. Include, bred and owned by Robert Meyerhoff, was coming off an impressive two-length win in the Feb.11 Whirlaway Handicap and was a winner of five of his eight career races.
Whenever you hear talk of a two-horse race, it's usually a good idea to swim upstream against popular opinion. Henry Pabst's Nite Dreamer, a sharp and durable runner for trainer Niall O'Callaghan, had shipped in from Payson Park four days before the New Orleans Handicap and was the horse nobody picked. Treated by the fans as if he were a late bone thrown to the wolves, Nite Dreamer was viewed as a casual substitute for the more accomplished Guided Tour, whom his trainer had opted to run in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
In the three weeks following the Whirlaway, Include had been trained with a pattern of breezes and two-mile gallops. "You know he's dead fit," Delp said. "After coming off a five-month layoff and winning the way he did, there are no adjustments to make. The rest is just maintenance."
Include was the last horse to arrive in the paddock, at about the same time the money started to pour in on him at the windows. Even the valets came out of the jocks' room and lined up to take a peek at the 3-5 celebrity.
Include warmed up without a pony and stepped straight into the starting gate. Once the gates opened, Nite Dreamer was not timid about going to the front. Running aggressively with his new blinkers, Nite Dreamer grabbed the lead and the rail around the first turn. Estio and Valhol were bunched up, 2 1/2 lengths off the lead, taking alternate stabs for second place. Include, ridden for the first time by Jerry Bailey, settled into fourth, a couple of lanes out from the rail and close enough to feel the sting of dirt being kicked back by Valhol and Estio.
Down the backstretch, Nite Dreamer's sharp speed had him free and clear despite jockey Larry Melancon's standing up on him like he was trying to apply the brake pedal.
After a moderate half mile in :47.97, it appeared that Nite Dreamer wasn't bluffing. The big gray was coasting along without a hint of urgency, clear by four lengths. Estio and Valhol remained flank to flank. Now it was decision time. If Include was a top-class horse, he was going to have to show it. Bailey, testing the patience of the bridge jumpers, used Include's tactical speed, coaxing his horse up closer and closer while still on the outside.
Going into the far turn, Include's steady advance put him within striking distance of the leader. Coming out of the turn, Include, under a right-handed whip, entered the picture in sharper focus. Nite Dreamer, however, wasn't about to give in. With two furlongs of real estate remaining, Melancon rattled the reins and his horse responded by opening up a two-length advantage.
At the eighth pole, a game Nite Dreamer was still digging in. He was holding Include at bay by a length. Switching the stick to the portside, Bailey went to work. Include started to grind it out, finally pulling up alongside Nite Dreamer at the sixteenth pole and suddenly it was all over. Include drew clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Nite Dreamer with a final clocking of 1:49.18 for the 1 1/8 miles. Valhol, who left the gate like a lion, came home like a lamb, finishing third as the second betting choice.
"This is a talented horse," Bailey said of his mount. "You can put him wherever you want him. He has a couple of gears. That makes it easier for a rider because you can maneuver with him. I figured if he were a good horse, he would overcome the advantage Nite Dreamer had on us. He did it and pulled away pretty easily."
There was no shame in Nite Dreamer's game.
"He probably ran the race of his life today," O'Callaghan said. "I put the blinkers on him in hopes we could steal the race with a slow pace and it almost worked."
The 69-year-old Delp felt vindicated. Going into the New Orleans Handicap, all of Include's victories had been by large margins.
"He is a special horse," Delp said as he watched Include being walked back to the barn. "He proved that today. We will sleep well tonight now that he has proven himself. Pace makes all the races and he came and caught that horse on his own today. That tells me he is ready to move forward."
Forward, according to Delp, will probably be in grade I events like the Oaklawn Handicap or Pimlico Special. Include has also been nominated to the Californian (gr. II) and Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).
"Of course, if Tiznow stays in the shape he is in, we won't be going in his direction any time soon," Delp remarked.
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