Aloma's Ruler beat calendar, odds Scherr's 16-day plan, teen jockey paid off

May 14, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Suppose you wanted to write a movie script about horse racing. Suppose you started with this story line:

The featured colt wrenches an ankle in the winter of his 3-year-old campaign and cannot race for more than two months.

The owner, a proud Baltimorean, pushes hard to get the horse ready for the Preakness that spring and skips the Kentucky Derby.

The trainer has 16 days -- and two races -- to get the horse ready.

The regular jockey opts to ride another horse the week before the Preakness, opening the door for an unknown teen-ager who gets the mount simply because he's available.

The new jockey is involved in a car accident a few days before the race -- but suffers only a mild concussion when his head hits the windshield because, inexplicably, he is wearing his racing helmet.

The only speed horse in the race is scratched after its owners squabble with track officials.

Closing scene: The colt wins wire-to-wire, the jockey trades his crash helmet for a cowboy hat in the winner's circle and the owner realizes his lifelong dream.

Would Hollywood take such a script to the bank? Or dismiss it as too unrealistic?

Nathan Scherr, a Baltimore native, lived the dream when Aloma's Ruler captured the 1982 Preakness in a scenario that was not to be believed.

No wonder he says he has no recollection of walking to the winner's circle that day: "I just floated."

Scherr, a Baltimore building contractor and former owner of the Blast, is forever linked with Butch Lenzini and "Cowboy" Jack Kaenel in that special moment of Preakness history 10 years ago.

Scherr was the owner who was determined to run Aloma's Ruler in the Preakness that year.

Lenzini was the trainer who thought time too short and the odds too long to have a chance at winning.

And Kaenel was the inexperienced jockey in the right place at the right time.

"If I had to pick one race in the whole world to win -- the Kentucky Derby, the English Derby, the Pimlico Special, one of the Breeders' Cups -- this would be the race," Scherr said recently.

"It was my most exciting moment in sports, maybe my most exciting moment in life."

It was a moment that was followed closely by tragedy. Scherr lost his wife, Annette, to cancer later that year.

It was an improbable moment right up to race time.

Aloma's Ruler, a Florida-bred son of Iron Ruler, had won his last two races as a 2-year-old and the Bahamas Stakes in January 1982, with Angel Cordero Jr. aboard.

But, in February, he injured an ankle and was questionable for the Triple Crown series.

"I didn't see any way he could come back," said Lenzini, who now trains at Aqueduct. "But we put a machine on the leg, we iced it and he came around quickly. The only thing Mr. Scherr wanted was to run in the Preakness."

At the end of April, Lenzini ran Aloma's Ruler in an allowance race at Pimlico. The horse came in second on a bad track.

Eight days later, Aloma's Ruler was running in the Withers Mile at Aqueduct. Cordero had changed mounts at that point and was riding Shimatoree.

Scherr settled on Kaenel as Cordero's replacement, only because he was available. But when Kaenel rode Aloma's Ruler to an impressive win over Spanish Drums, he was suddenly the jockey of record.

Scherr was set for his second Preakness bid. His first, in 1978, was with Dax S., who ran fifth in a six-horse field behind Affirmed.

"The first time was a lark," Scherr said. "I told my friends, 'If you see me in the lists another time, you'll know we're serious and we think we can win it.' "

Lenzini had 16 days between the Pimlico allowance race and the Preakness. Aloma's Ruler ran three times in that span.

Until the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, the horse never had gone longer than a mile. But, by then, things were looking up for Scherr.

For one, Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol was shipped directly to New York for the Belmont, bypassing Baltimore. Linkage, trained by Henry Clark, became the 1-2 Preakness favorite despite missing the Derby.

Even bad luck turned good for Scherr that week. He avoided another jockey change when Kaenel, wearing his racing helmet, emerged from a car accident four days before the race with only minor injuries.

More good fortune: Two days before the race and just one hour after Robert De Filippis and Robert Perez paid $2,500 to enter Cupecoy's Joy, the filly was scratched because the owners were upset over seating arrangements.

Without Cupecoy's Joy -- considered the best speed horse in the field -- Lenzini instructed Kaenel to go for the lead. Kaenel, who now races at Bay Meadows in California, followed those instructions. Leading all the way, Aloma's Ruler beat Linkage by a half-length and returned $15.80 on a $2 bet.

The bubble burst in the mud at Belmont, though, where Aloma's Ruler ran a poor ninth behind Conquistador Cielo. Kaenel was replaced by Cordero after the defeat. Cordero won the Jersey Derby and took second in the Haskell Handicap and Travers Stakes before Aloma's Ruler was retired to stud duty. The horse finished with seven victories in 13 career starts, and stands at Shamrock Farm in Woodbine.

For Scherr, the dream is relived every May.

"There was an element of luck in there, too," he said. "Once in a while, I'm pretty smart and do the right thing. Once in a while, I'm a dummy, too. But I was smart and quite determined then. At one point, I thought destiny was pushing us through."

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