Hawthorne Race Report: A Good Day For Duckhorn

Published in the May 26 Blood-Horse
The axiom "speed kills" holds true about every second race for Duckhorn. The other times he worries trainer Patrick Byrne half to death.

Fortunately for Byrne and owner Michael Tabor, the "good" Duckhorn showed up for the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) May 19. Of course, that was bad news for his half-dozen opponents, who spent a mile and a quarter watching the rear end of the roan 4-year-old colt.

Jockey Randy Meier gave Duckhorn his head, and the colt, who has a problem with a displaced palate when he's restrained, took off and never stopped. He raced through opening fractions of :23.11, :46.34, and 1:10.23, drew off to a five-length lead with a half-mile left, and finished up in 2:01.61, still 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Chilean star Lido Palace. It was another 7 1/2 lengths back to favorite Guided Tour in third, with Jadada a neck back in fourth.

"I told Randy, 'In a perfect world, take a long cross and just let him get in his galloping mode, and hopefully they'll leave you alone,' " Byrne said. "That's exactly what happened, and the horse was right and he galloped them into the ground pretty much."

Bettors who made Duckhorn the 7-5 co-favorite in his last race, the National Jockey Club Handicap (gr. III) at Sportsman's Park, ignored him at almost 12-1 in the tougher Gold Cup after his 22 3/4-length defeat, and paid the price. Chicago Six, who capped off a perfect six-for-six at Sportsman's with the National Jockey Club, was a distant fifth in the Gold Cup. And it's back to the drawing board for second-favorite Ecton Park, who was eased after prompting the early pace.

While horseplayers may have dismissed Duckhorn, Lido Palace's trainer Bobby Frankel insisted that he did not. "This was the horse I was afraid of," said Frankel, who pointed Lido Palace for the Gold Cup as his North American debut after the colt, still a 3-year-old in South America, finished third to Express Tour and Street Cry in the $2-million UAE Derby (UAE-III) in his last start.

Byrne admitted that Lido Palace was gaining on Duckhorn in the stretch, adding, "The jock (David Flores) may have left him with too much to do." Flores explained: "I wanted to be closer but didn't get out of the gate. I thought we were going to get to (Duckhorn), but he just kept running. We couldn't catch him."

The Gold Cup victory was the second for Meier, who guided Supreme Sound to a front-running triumph in 1999. Weeks later Meier was diagnosed with a broken neck, which nearly ended his career and kept him out of action for nine months. The Chicago- area favorite gave credit to the horse, stating, "I just took a long cross and a deep seat and let him do the work. When they turned for home, he cut out. He had a perfect trip and everything went super."

The Maryland-bred Duckhorn, a son of Not For Love out of Ten's Testamony (by Deputed Testamony), is the only horse Byrne currently trains for Tabor, who purchased the Lisa Lewis-trainee privately as a maiden in November 1999, on the advice of racing manager Demi O'Byrne.

He has won six of his last 11 starts, and his $300,000 Gold Cup winnings bring his career bankroll to $511,638. But his trainer is still scratching his head over his inconsistency.

"This horse can run really big numbers," Byrne said. "When he does that, he's Breeders' Cup material. But he's a funny horse, who'll drive a trainer and an owner crazy. He ran great today, but the next time we run him, I don't know. It's the strangest form pattern I've ever seen on any horse."

Byrne thinks he may have found one key--keeping his races about six weeks apart. Although the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. II) is just four weeks away, the trainer expects he'll be under orders to run in that event at his home base of Churchill Downs after his strong showing at Hawthorne.

Byrne said he regrets the Gold Cup was run this year in the spring rather than its usual mid-October slot because of Hawthorne's split meeting. He won't be able to use the race as a springboard to the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), a formula he used to perfection in 1998 with Awesome Again.  

(Chart, Equibase)