ELMONT, N.Y. -- Providing a fitting conclusion to a memorable weekend, Meadow Star outfought Lite Light in a torrid stretch duel in the $200,000 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park yesterday.
Meadow Star won by a fraction of an inch over Lite Light after the pair went nose-to-nose through the long Belmont stretch. Meadow Star led on a slow pace before Lite Light, farthest outside, drew even at the quarter pole.
As a crowd of 16,784 roared, Meadow Star appeared to have a visible margin one stride before the wire, but Lite Light gave a final gasp that rendered them virtually inseparable.
The finish provided a remarkable end to a highly touted matchup between the nation's top 3-year-old fillies -- and to a weekend of high drama. The Mother Goose came one day after Hansel barely outlasted Strike the Gold in the 123rd Belmont Stakes.
Jerry Bailey, who rode Hansel and Meadow Star, said, "I knew whoever got the head bob would win."
Corey Nakatani rode Light Lite for Oaktown Stable, owned by the family of Lewis Burrell Sr. and his son, rap star M.C. Hammer.
"I'm a little disappointed, but she ran a beautiful race," Nakatani said.
"This was one great race, and anyone who doesn't like this doesn't like the sport," winning trainer Leroy Jolley said.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said that Lite Light "bled a little" after her first loss in four starts since she was purchased by Hammer's family in March.
Meadow Star, owned by TWA board chairman Carl C. Icahn, was the favorite in a field of four until about four minutes to post time, when Oaktown members went to the betting windows. Meadow Star was 3-5 to Lite Light's 4-5 -- but then Lite Light dropped to 1-2, then 1-5, as the Burrell family bet with gusto. At post time, Lite Light was .50-1, Meadow Star .90-1.
With the victory, Meadow Star, the 1990 2-year-old filly champion, remains unbeaten against fillies. She is 11-for-12 lifetime, with her defeat coming in April against males.
The triumph leaves Meadow Star one race shy of sweeping New York's Triple Tiara for fillies. She won the Acorn Stakes and now has to win the Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on July 6, in which she may face Lite Light again, for a sweep.
Meadow Star ($3.80) ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute, 48 4/5 seconds. Nalees Pin finished 15 1/2 lengths behind the top two, a nose ahead of Risen Colony.
Meanwhile, plans were made for Hansel to be flown to Chicago tomorrow morning. Trainer Frank Brothers said Saturday that he will keep his options open concerning the colt's next start.
Strike the Gold will stay in light training at Belmont, according to trainer Nick Zito, and will be pointed for the Haskell Invitational (July 27 at Monmouth Park) and Travers Stakes (Aug. 17 at Saratoga).
"I don't believe in stopping on a horse," Zito said. "They're athletes. When you stop on them, they lose muscle tone and get mad."
Zito told the New York Daily News that he'd like a rematch with Strike the Gold.
"Frank is a hell of a horse trainer and [owner] Mr. [Joe L.] Allbritton is a class act, but, and I don't want to be a wiseguy, there is not a horse around that can beat Strike the Gold three times in a row," he said. "I said that about Fly So Free and I mean the same thing with Hansel. I'm definitely looking forward to them meeting again."
Said Brothers: "There are the obvious races, but I wouldn't want to say what we'll do. It will all make for a good rivalry down the line."
Mane Minister, third in the Belmont, will return to his California base and also may run in the Travers.
Green Alligator, 4-1 third choice in the Belmont, apparently had a breathing problem in the race, causing him to finish 46 lengths back.
Trainer Murray Johnson said it was determined the colt had a low-grade infection that created a heavy mucous problem, but that it should be cleared up in five to seven days.
"We were going to give him a little time off anyway, so that won't affect anything," said Johnson, who has a stable at Churchill Downs.
Festin and Farma Way, the 1-3 finishers in Saturday's Nassau County Handicap, will fly to California to point for the $1 million Hollywood Gold Cup on June 29. Summer Squall, easy winner of an allowance race at Churchill Saturday, and several others will run in the Gold Cup, sixth race in the American Championship Racing Series.
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Farma Way, said jockey Gary Stevens used "terrible judgment" in allowing Farma Way to get caught in a ruinous early speed duel with Jolie's Halo. Lukas said he likely will replace Stevens for the next race.