Horsemen and fans who gathered at the paddock for the last race at Pimlico Race Course yesterday came mostly to see Onlooker.
The 3-year-old Miswaki colt had been favored to win an important 2-year-old race, the Cowdin Stakes, last year at
Aqueduct, and had even run against Arazi in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The colt was then trained by Woody Stephens, the Hall of Fame horseman who has been seriously ill for more than a year.
The horse came into local trainer Carlos Garcia's barn a few months ago. On the basis of the impressive company he kept last year -- "even though the water truck must have beaten him in the Breeders' Cup," Garcia said -- Onlooker went off at 6-5 odds.
But it was Prayer Rug, who had been snared out of a $20,000 claimer, that galloped off with the race.
The son of Damascus out of the stakes mare Bishops Ring had been haltered three months ago by John Polek from the ultra classy Bayard Sharp stable.
"I liked the horse because Charlie Peoples [Sharp's trainer] has quality animals," Polek said. Polek's trainer, Carroll Hawkins, also was attracted by the gelding's impeccable breeding.
Polek, 75, lives in Timonium and has operated a marina on the Gunpowder River and sold luxury pleasure boats for 41 years.
He got into the horse business "about 20 years ago," he recalled. "I had a heart attack, and told my wife that the one thing I wanted to do before I passed away was own a racehorse.
"She said, 'Well, go buy one,' and that's what I did."
That was two decades ago. During that time, Polek estimates, he has had more than 100 individual winners. At one time his stable proliferated into an 18-horse string with John Forbes, who races year-round on the New Jersey circuit.
"It just got to be too much to travel all the way up to New Jersey or Pennsylvania to see my horses run," Polek said.
So he downsized his operation until he hooked up last year with Hawkins, whom he had known since he got into the business.
Polek's stable has grown to seven horses. "Three of them -- Paya, Swiss Mark and Justins Testamony-- finished second last week, and I didn't have time to come see them," Polek said.
But he was at Pimlico yesterday to watch Prayer Rug win by seven lengths and beat Onlooker, who finished next to last, by nearly 15 lengths.
"Our horse has really improved since he got on Lasix," Hawkins said.
Garcia was hoping maybe there was a similar excuse for Onlooker. "I had him scoped, and thought maybe he had bled," Garcia said. "He didn't. I guess he's just not much of a horse."
NOTES: Grab The Green, the Barclay Tagg-trained stakes mare, will not run in the Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park this weekend, but will wait for the New York Handicap at Belmont Park. . . . Apprentice Steve Hamilton started serving a seven-day suspension Wednesday that will run through Tuesday's card. The stewards said Hamilton let his mount, It's the Wind, drift out though the stretch in the eighth race last Sunday and impede Larry Reynolds on Starkath, who finished fourth. . . . Thirteen 3-year-olds have been entered for tomorrow's Woodlawn Stakes, including high-weight Binary Light and eighth-place Preakness finisher Dash For Dotty.