LAUREL -- It wasn't the Kentucky Derby victory they had sought in May, but Country Day's triumph at Laurel Race Course yesterday was satisfying to owner James Scibelli and two partners.
The one-length triumph over the front-runner, Hooliganisim, was the first for Country Day since Scibelli, Barry Rubenstein and Steve Posner bought him in April.
"Jim looked over the Derby field in April and decided it was weak," Rubenstein said before yesterday's seven-furlong feature. "He thought we could buy a horse and maybe win it. He's the major partner."
At the time, Country Day had won only a maiden race in 13 starts, but had been second in the Tropical Park Derby with a rally.
The colt had cost $25,000 at the Ocala, Fla., sale for 2-year-olds. BTC In April, the partners' purchase was private, with no price revealed.
They sent him out in the Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles. Thirty Six Red won it, but Country Day rallied from far back and lost by only 3 3/4 lengths.
The Daily Racing Form trouble line for the Wood notes that Country Day was "squeezed, start."
With another eighth of a mile in the Derby, Country Day figured to do well.
But in the middle of Derby week, Country Day was said to have a broken bone and was taken out of the race. The injury was diagnosed wrong, however. Apparently, the colt had been hurt as a youngster, and the X-rays showed an old break.
Trainer John Parisella put the horse back in training, and entered him in the Peter Pan Stakes. Country Day rallied again to finish second, but was 6 1/2 furlongs behind Profit Key.
In the Belmont Stakes, the trouble line says "in close, stumbled." The colt had "grabbed a quarter," which is race-track talk for overstriding or taking an errant step with a hind leg and cutting the front foot. Country Day was taken out of training.
"That's when I got him," said trainer Eddie Gaudet, who saddled the colt yesterday. "They sent him to me at the farm in Upper Marlboro. He had been hurt, and he had abscesses in both front feet. We got rid of that, and it took time. He went back to work, and he was fast. It's nice to see these good horses."
With the layoff and poor form just before that, bettors made him only second choice yesterday. Ebonizer was favored. He had been close twice in stakes races last winter, and had come back strong after a layoff.
Country Day put on a strong rally in the stretch and passed Hooliganisim. Ebonizer was third.
Country Day was one of three winners ridden by Mike Luzzi. Marco Castaneda also rode three winners.
"I don't know what will happen next," Gaudet said. "I've got him nominated to that race here [$50,000 Annapolis Handicap on Nov. 25], but I don't know. John may want to take him back to New York."
Country Day paid $5 to win. He raced under treatment of Lasix for the first time. At New York tracks, Lasix is not legal.