ELMONT, NEW YORK — ELMONT, N.Y. -- West By West, a newcomer to the American Championship Racing Series, held off a late surge from Maryland-owned and Maryland-trained Valley Crossing and won TTC the $400,000 Nassau County Handicap yesterday at Belmont Park.
Pimlico Special winner Devil His Due finished fourth as the 9-5 favorite, a half-length behind 1991 Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold, who made his customary late run but finished third.
Devil His Due, current ACRS point leader, carried high weight of 123 pounds, giving the winner 9 pounds.
"I guess it just shows they don't run well all the time," said Devil His Due's trainer Allen Jerkens.
Winning jockey Jean-Luc Samyn stalked pace-setter Honest Ensign in the early stages of the 1 1/8 -mile race.
"[West By West] was going extremely easy. In fact, he was
dragging me out of the saddle," Samyn said. "Going around the [final] turn, I was the horse on the lead and I was waiting until the last possible moment to make my move and enjoying every moment. I saw them [Valley Crossing and Strike the Gold] coming on the outside and said, 'It's time to go.' "
The near-miss by Valley Crossing, ridden by eventual Belmont Stakes winning jockey Julie Krone, marked a banner day for Maryland horses at Belmont.
Laurel-based Montbrook, owned by Israel Cohen, trained by Dean Gaudet and ridden by Clarence "Jo Jo" Ladner, led from start to finish in the Riva Ridge Stakes and defeated As Indicated by two lengths. Last year, Gaudet and Ladner teamed up with Cohen-owned Speakerphone and won the Colin Stakes on the Belmont undercard.
Punch Line, recent winner of the Harriman Stakes at Pimlico, was ridden by local jockey Andrea Seefeldt and finished fourth in the Riva Ridge Stakes.
West By West, who had hard luck as a 3-year-old, finished 11th in the 1992 Kentucky Derby. "I rushed him. I got Derby fever -- everybody gets it," said trainer Rusty Arnold.
But the horse has matured as a 4-year-old and loves Belmont Park. He has never been beaten in five starts at the track. His victory yesterday ranks him fifth in the ACRS standings.
Valley Crossing moved up to fourth after his second-place finish yesterday behind Devil His Due, Pistols and Roses and Missionary Ridge. The Nassau County was the fifth race in the nine-race ACRS series which ends at Belmont Park in September with the Woodward Stakes.