Racing is a game of timing, both good and bad. If you're uncertain, ask the men of New York City Hook and Ladder Company 20, who were on hand following the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship (gr. II) on March 9 to present the winner's trophy. It was widely expected they would be presenting to the connections of another Hook and Ladder. The equine version was the race's defending champion, undefeated in four starts over the track, and so imposing that it was the opinion of trainer John Kimmel that: "He should have beaten this field comfortably." Instead, the even-money favorite found himself distanced in the seven-furlong race. He was done in by a large abscess just beneath his epiglottis that had apparently burst within a day of the race. "I just scoped him last week and he was clear," said the despondent trainer. "Why did he have to pick today? He was so right otherwise." Kimmel and jockey John Velazquez first knew that Hook and Ladder was in trouble when he coughed and started "making funny noises" in the post parade. They were convinced when, instead of showing his dazzling speed, he was laboring to keep up with pacesetter Dancing Missile early in the race. It became apparent to everyone else when a pair of Paul McGee-trained runners, Twilight Road and Dream Run, passed him on both flanks near the three-eighths pole. Down the stretch the quick question became which, if either of those two, would corral Dancing Missile. Dream Run gave the resounding answer by assuming command inside the eighth pole and drawing away. Binthebest and Burning Roma each closed from the rear to finish second and third, respectively, the former a neck better than Burning Roma for the place but 1 1/2 lengths shy of the winner. It was the first graded stakes win for John Murphy's 4-year-old son of Cherokee Run. Dream Run was a contender on the Triple Crown trail last spring when fourth in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and third in the Illinois Derby (gr. II). "He's never run a bad race going long, but I do think he's better as a come-from-behind sprinter," said McGee. "And seven furlongs is a good distance and fits him well." Obviously. Dream Run is now four for five at the distance, including a win in Keeneland's Perryville Stakes last October, for Pat Day. "The horse settled nicely for me today, and that was good because before he was somewhat one dimensional," Day said. A pair of poor outings followed the Perryville--McGee blamed them on a chronic lung infection that bothered the horse last fall. The trainer chose to regroup in South Florida, allowing the colt to regain his composure in a pair of conditioned allowance races earlier in the meet. "We considered the General George (gr. II) and the Deputy Minister (gr. III)," McGee said of two other stakes. "But we wanted him to knock out the allowance win and then stay on this track. This race really worked well from a timing standpoint."
HOPE AMONG HOPE
Anybody who says you can't re-teach an old dog old tricks should have been present for the March 10 Creme Fraiche Handicap (gr. III). The "old dog" in question was Hal's Hope, nonagenarian Harold Rose's 5-year-old, who as a front-running dervish nearly two years ago captured the Florida Derby (gr. I) over this track. Though Rose, with help from Hal Hope's regular rider and personal psychiatrist Roger Velez, had taught the bay to rate in recent outings, Hal's Hope remained without a graded stakes win since that March 11, 2000, score. That changed, however, when he resumed his speed-happy ways and wired the field in the 1 1/16-mile Creme Fraiche. "I looked at the race and there was no speed," said Rose, who bred and trains Hal's Hope as well. "So it was the plan to go right to the lead today. You have to look and see what the competition is and adjust yourself accordingly." The competition included the perpetual longshot American Halo who put in the only serious challenge, ranging alongside Hal's Hope at the turn. American Halo settled for second, 2 1/4 lengths back after Velez asked his mount again in the stretch. "He's a good mental horse," praised the rider. "He's like a dog in that he'll do whatever you ask of him."