Belmont Park Race Report: Swept Clean

Belmont Park Race Report: Swept Clean
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Swept Overboard, winning the Metropolitan Handicap.
Published in the June 1 issue of The Blood-Horse
Sometimes, all it takes is perseverence. One way or another, trainer Craig Dollase and owner J. Paul Reddam were going to get Swept Overboard to Belmont Park for the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) on May 27. So what if forces were conspiring to stop it from happening. So what if the 5-year-old horse had never won beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. So what if the Met Mile was shaping up as one of the strongest and deepest fields in years. So what if Dollase didn't even have a jockey.

He was coming, period. That is, if he could get a plane, any plane, to take off. The plan was simple: leave Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 22, gallop over the track the next four days to get accustomed to it, and run on Monday, Memorial Day. But sometimes, simple things have a way of getting complicated. On Wednesday, Swept Overboard arrived at the airport, but the flight was canceled due to mechanical problems and the horse never got off the van. It was back to Hollywood Park. On Thursday, Swept Overboard gave it another shot, but once again, the flight was canceled because of mechanical problems. After two van rides to the airport and winding up back in his own barn, the horse must have been wondering what this new nightly ritual was all about.

A frustrated Dollase gave it another try the following night after a new plane was flown in from Cincinnati. Finally, at 1 a.m. Friday, Swept Overboard took off for New York. "If I had to ride him myself, he was going to get there," Reddam said. Dollase, however, was still turned off by the hassle and decided to stay home and saddle Reddam's Royal Moro in the Laz Barrera Memorial (gr. II) at Hollywood Park the same day, sending only the stable foreman with the horse. He didn't even bother sending Swept Overboard's groom.

After the second flight had been canceled, trainer Dick Mandella felt he had had enough of the delays and decided to keep his Met Mile hopeful Reddatore home and run him in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT), also on the same day. That left jockey Jorge Chavez open. Dollase called Chavez' agent, Ronnie Ebanks, and asked him if he'd like to ride Swept Overboard. Ebanks jumped at the chance, and Dollase found himself with a top New York rider. Just like that, things were starting to come together.

Fast forward to May 27. Chavez slips Swept Overboard through a gaping hole on the rail at the quarter pole and explodes past Left Bank and Affirmed Success. He surges to the lead and draws off to win by 4 3/4 lengths in a sizzling 1:33.34, the fourth-fastest Met Mile in history.

Dollase watched on TV at Hollywood, "cheering and jumping up and down," but all the while wishing he was there. "I'd love to be able to do it all over," he said. "This time I'd make sure I went. All I kept saying when we finally got him off the ground was, 'something good better come of all this.' But the horse overcame it all. God, he ran huge. It's funny how things work out."

A field of 10 went to the post for the Met Mile, with Left Bank, winner of the 2001 Cigar Mile (gr. I) and Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) the solid 2-1 favorite. Swept Overboard, who won last year's Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) in a scorching 1:07.67 before finishing fourth, beaten a length, in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), was sent off at 11-1. With no one to saddle the son of End Sweep, the duty fell to trainer John Hertler, in whose barn Swept Overboard was stabled.

Canadian sprinter Wake At Noon broke on top, but Left Bank, coming off only one six-furlong victory this year, was too sharp and immediately went after him. D'wildcat, Affirmed Success, and Crafty C.T., another California invader, who had shipped in earlier, all joined the fray through an opening quarter in :22.58. With most of the top choices banging heads early, the pace quickened, as they hit the half-mile pole in :44.79. Chavez had Swept Overboard tucked in behind the battling leaders. When D'wildcat began to tire along the inside, Chavez steered Swept Overboard to his outside, then headed back to the vacated rail. Left Bank began to retreat, leaving Affirmed Success and Crafty C.T. to slug it out. But when Chavez shot Swept Overboard through on the inside, all thoughts of a rousing stretch battle quickly disappeared. It took only a few strides and Swept Overboard was gone.

Aldebaran, from the Bobby Frankel stable, made a good move along the inside to reach second, but the 2002 Met Mile was all but over. With Chavez waving his whip continuously, and giving Swept Overboard several back-handed taps, the gray horse drew off through a :24.70 final quarter to win comfortably. Aldebaran was second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Crafty C.T., who had 41?4 lengths on Affirmed Success in fourth.

"The mile was never a concern for me," Reddam said. "I think it was more of a concern for Craig. I've been anxious to run him longer for a long time. Getting here was the hardest part. I felt that he liked the track off of his race in the Breeders' Cup and that he just needed some racing luck today. Every race, he's been charging at the wire, so I felt more distance would help him."

For Chavez, this was his third victory in the Met Mile. "It was a little hard to hold him back," he said. "I was told to stay four or five lengths behind and then make one move. I didn't want to fight him. He was pulling so hard, I couldn't hold him anymore. He just exploded turning for home. When I gave him a little rein, he exploded."

Dollase said Swept Overboard would return to Hollywood Park and likely point for the Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) on July 6. The question is, will he be as effective having to simply walk to the track?

Break On Through
Is War Emblem on a date with destiny or are the stars beginning to line up for another failed Triple Crown attempt? After the running of the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) on May 25, one couldn't help but see this new alignment of stars forming in the sky over Belmont Park.

The first star bears an uncanny resemblance to jockey Gary Stevens, and shows the Hall of Fame rider, sitting atop Sunday Break, with a sly grin on his face. Stevens would love nothing more than to stop War Emblem's rendezvous with history in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and do it with Sunday Break. If it wasn't for Stevens' commitment to the son of Forty Niner in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), he most likely would be War Emblem's rider, not Victor Espinoza. And who better to help engineer the defeat of War Emblem than that shrewd, crafty general Neil Drysdale?

The second star shows the all too familiar image of Allen Jerkens getting ready to fire his slingshot at some unsuspecting giant. Although Jerkens frowns upon his long-standing title of "the Giant Killer," there is a Goliath out there on the verge of winning racing's third and ultimate battle. And with Jerkens loading up his slingshot with Peter Pan runner-up Puzzlement, you can bet people are going start having visions again of little David slaying the mighty Philistine warrior.

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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