For nearly 1 1/2 years, trainer Nancy Heil nursed a strained tendon on 5-year-old gelding Fighting Notion.
During that time, owners Arlene and Herb Kushner paid bill after bill on the injured animal.
Yesterday at Pimlico Race Course, their patience and perseverance paid off.
The horse won the $42,175 Duck Dance Handicap, his first stakes victory since he set a stakes record in the Mister Diz Stakes at Pimlico more than two years ago.
The horse's task was made a lot easier when five of the nine horses in the field were scratched after the track came up muddy.
Since only four horses started, only win, place and exacta wagering were offered.
Heil said she considered scratching. "But I walked out on the track before the race, and the mud didn't even come up past my loafer. I recalled this horse liked an off track before he was injured. I just didn't want to run him on a slippery track, and this wasn't. It was more like wet sand. I noticed that my shoe left a print on the track after I walked on it, so we decided to go ahead and run."
After such speed horses as Kelly's Class and Root Boy were scratched, Fighting Notion was the sole speed horse in the race.
He immediately jumped to the lead and had opened up as much as two lengths on the field when Allthathecouldsee rallied to catch him at the head of the stretch.
Fighting Notion shook off that challenge, then was joined at the eighth pole by Rene Douglas on the Florida horse, Cold Digger.
Chavez couldn't get through on the rail, so he took Cold Digger to the outside.
He tried to get by, but Fighting Notion sprinted away from him at the wire.
Chavez lodged a foul claim against Albert Delgado, who rode Fighting Notion, for interference near the wire, but it was disallowed by the stewards.
NOTES: Dash For Dotty, ninth-place finisher in the Blue Grass Stakes, will run Saturday in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. Trainer Bill Donovan originally thought the gelding had not been nominated. "But Henry Rosenberg [the horse's owner] had nominated him this winter at Gulfstream Park with [track operator] Joe De Francis. So we'll go ahead and run," Donovan said.