Smart Alec is one of the winningest horses in Maryland, but he is also one of the unluckiest.
The Maryland Million winner first turned up with a small trace of cocaine in his system after a winning race in June and was disqualified. It has never been determined exactly how he ingested the drug, but it is believed he ate cocaine-tainted straw.
Then yesterday, the Maryland Racing Commission upheld the stewards' decision to disqualify him from the Challedon Handicap after he fouled a horse that didn't even place in the race.
Even steward Bill Passmore said that during his 36-year career as a jockey, he never claimed foul against a winner if his mount hadn't earned a piece of the purse.
"It's just too hard to win," he said.
But that's exactly what jockey Marco Castaneda did after the $50,000-added Maryland-bred stakes on Oct. 10. His mount, Eagle Mill, finished ninth in a 10-horse field. But Castaneda lodged an objection against Mario Pino on Smart Alec for interference at the top of the stretch.
It was an obvious foul, the stewards concluded. Even if it didn't affect the outcome of the race, the rules state that any horse that fouls another is eligible to be disqualified. Smart Alec was placed ninth. The disqualification cost the owner, Janet Tuttle of Rock Hall, $36,000.
"There was mother in the winner's circle," her daughter Amanda recalled. "They [the guards] had already handed her the trophy. Then when the lights on the odds board started blinking [denoting a foul claim], they grabbed it back out of her hands. She looked like a little child who had just lost her toys."
Mrs. Tuttle and her husband, Wylie, appealed the decision to the commission, believing that another horse, Win A Game, had actually interfered with Eagle Mill.
But the commissioners sided with the stewards. Pino has already served a seven-day suspension for the infraction.
Smart Alec's two 1991 disqualifications cost the Tuttles more than $50,000 in purses. "Let's hope 1992 will be luckier," John M. Mosner Jr., the commission chairman, told the Tuttles, who race a three-horse stable locally as well as another string in France.
Smart Alec won his first race of 1992 on Jan. 1 and is now being pointed for the $200,000 General George Stakes at Laurel Feb. 17.
Flaming Emperor, who originally finished second in the Challedon, was moved up to the winning spot.