By Paul Volponi
Published in the May 11 issue of The Blood-Horse
The Peter Karches-owned Fast Decision overcame a flat-footed beginning, rallying strongly inside of the final furlong to take the Withers Stakes (gr. III) on May 4 at Aqueduct. Competing in a Derby Day stakes for 3-year-olds at a track other than Churchill Downs was not a complete disappointment for the connections of this slim field of five, most of whom were still working out the kinks from their runners' recent performances. However, for trainer Christophe Clement, the one-mile event was an opportunity to showcase the skills of the rapidly improving Fast Decision. At the break, Fast Decision was fidgeting beneath jockey Jose Santos. It cost the pair at least a length out of the starting gate. Richard Migliore found himself alone on the lead aboard the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Shah Jehan. It wasn't what the rider had planned for Michael Tabor's $4.4-million son of Mr. Prospector. But once Shah Jehan fell into a rhythmic stride down the backstretch, Migliore committed his colt to the front end. "He was real comfortable and relaxed," said Migliore, who envisioned a stalking trip. Santos hustled Fast Decision up outside of the leader into second position. He tracked the lone speed through an opening quarter of :23.52 and a half in :46.37. "He broke slow, but he got into good position," said Santos of his charge. Just past the half-mile mark, Santos gave Fast Decision his head. The Clement-trained runner responded quickly, lapping onto the leader. Migliore was still confident aboard Shah Jehan, but knew he had a fight on his hands. "At the three-eighths pole, I wouldn't have traded places with anybody," said Migliore. "I peeked over again at the five-sixteenths pole, and he was right on my hip." Clement, nodding in approval of the confrontation on the turn, said, "He moved forward to put pressure on the leader." Then Migliore asked his colt for everything he had, trying to spurt away spinning out of the turn. "When I asked him, he dropped and ran," he said of Shah Jehan. Santos took dead aim, drawing his whip and rousing Fast Decision. He worked furiously on the son of Gulch in upper stretch. As the pair reached the furlong marker, Fast Decision was gaining momentum. In an instant, Santos had switched his stick from the left side, motivating Fast Decision on the right flank now. Fast Decision struck the lead just inside the final sixteenth. Then he edged away from his lone rival in a determined manner, scoring by three-quarters of a length. He stopped the timer in 1:36.41, running the final quarter in :25.49 into the wind. "This horse is really good now," said a proud Karches in the winner's circle. "It was an exceptionally great race. He was rated perfectly. He was never out of it." Ironically, both Santos and Migliore felt Fast Decision's mishap at the start helped the colt more than it hurt him, offering up Shah Jehan as a target at which to run. "It was a little for the best," said Santos of the tardy beginning. Migliore concurred, believing his mount would have also benefited from a tracking trip. Monthir, the slight favorite, finished fourth, eight lengths behind the winner. The Shadwell Stable runner, who had raced so strongly through the stretch in the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) three weeks prior, never threatened the leaders after being rated early on. The Bill Mott-trained Listen Here, who set torrid fractions in the Bay Shore, raced reserved off of the early lead, finishing 51?4 lengths back in third. Paraneck Stable's Lord Ofthe Thunder made a menacing, four-wide move on the turn before flattening out in the lane. Clement, who captured the Withers for the third time in eight years (the last in 1997 with Statesmanship, also owned in part by Karches), praised his colt for succeeding against the speed bias. "He won the way the track was today. He overcame a lot of things."
Green Hills Farm's Voodoo Dancer made her 4-year-old debut a winning one in the Beaugay Handicap (gr. IIIT) on May 5 at 11?16 miles on the turf, giving Clement a sweep of the weekend stakes. Jockey Jerry Bailey broke cleanly from an outside post with Voodoo Dancer, his only mount on the card after arriving from Kentucky, immediately taking a tight hold of her. Bailey had his filly laying a close fifth through a sensible opening quarter of :24.38 and a half in :48.28. "She might have been a little keen, maybe a little rank with the slow pace," said Bailey. Midway on the turn, Babae, the 6-year-old Chilean-bred making her seasonal debut for trainer Frank Alexander, made her move for the lead under Jorge Chavez. Meanwhile, Bailey sat tight on Voodoo Dancer, patiently waiting for room. Entering the stretch, Bailey tipped the bay daughter of Kingmambo wide and into the clear, setting his sights on the new leader, Babae. "He's got plenty of horse here," said Clement of Bailey's charge into the stretch.
Then Bailey put Voodoo Dancer into high gear. "Once I got her outside, it was all her," said Bailey. The filly dashed clear of her nine rivals with ease, registering a 23?4-length victory. She stopped the clock in 1:43.10, covering the final sixteenth in :06.30.
The question was immediately put to Bailey: Was the race as easy as it looked? "Yes," was the rider's resounding reply. Clement was confident going into the race. Only the possibility of soft turf and the presence of older runners held his caution. Clement's comments concerning the ride Voodoo Dancer received were clear and concise. "When Bailey is riding, you're always where you want to be," he said. Voodoo Dancer gave Bailey his third consecutive victory in the Beaugay, and his fifth in the past nine years. The Joe Orseno-trained Golden Corona rallied up the rail late to nose out Babae for second. It was the 4-year-old daughter of Gulch's first graded stakes appearance, coming on the heels of a solid allowance score on April 18. "She was competitive in Canada, and now with open horses," said Orseno. Babae, who weakened in deep stretch in her return, was rated successfully by Chavez. "She had been showing too much speed," said Alexander, who addressed the problem with a series of slow breezes. Shopping for Love, who has a reputation for being troublesome in the paddock, gave her handlers fits. The filly reared twice before being saddled. She then tossed rider Noberto Arroyo Jr. before heading onto the racetrack, flipping over and landing hard on her side. "She's hot," said trainer Kenneth Nesky, who believed the fans overlooking the area spurred on her antics. The mare, who is in her final year of racing before breeding, understandably left her race in the paddock, finishing last. (Chart, Equibase)