After jockey Omar Klinger rushed past front-runner Ameri Valay in the Find Handicap yesterday, he thought he'd cruise home a 10-length winner in the $58,200 stakes at Pimlico Race Course with his mount, Jest Punching.
But Ameri Valay did something he's never done before.
After he was headed, the 5-year-old horse charged back into contention and just missed catching Jest Punching by a nose.
"Omar told me that when he got clear, he thought he'd win easy," said winning trainer Gary Capuano. "So he relaxed on the horse, and when he did, Jest Punching just stopped. I saw Ameri Valay coming, and I thought 'Oh, no, my worst nightmare is about to come true.' "
Jest Punching ran the last eighth of a mile so slowly, in 14 seconds, that Klinger's overconfidence almost cost the owners of Jest Punching the winner's share of $36,000. However, he held on for a nose victory.
"All we needed was one more jump," said Albert Delgado, Ameri Valay's jockey, who said he was surprised when his horse came on again. "I got into him [after Jest Punching passed], and he really responded."
The field for the nine-furlong stakes was diminished from a dozen to four runners after the race was switched from the grass course to the main track because of heavy showers on Saturday.
Capuano said he had no intention of running Jest Punching if the race stayed on the grass and had entered him just in case it did come off the turf. "I was on the golf course yesterday morning, fully intending to scratch him. Then I got an emergency call from my stable at Bowie telling me the race was going on the dirt, so I told them to put him on the van," Capuano said.
Maryland Moon, the 3-2 favorite, finished third, seven lengths behind the top pair.
"He's just not as good on the main track as he is on the grass," said the horse's trainer, Larry Murray. "What this amounts to against these type of horses is that he got a public workout and got paid for it."
Say Capp, a 3-year-old running against older horses, finished fourth.
Murray decided to run Maryland Moon since the horse had won the race last year after it was switched from the grass to the main track. Yesterday's running marked the third consecutive time that the grass stakes has been moved to the dirt.
Jest Punching has had a kind of rocky campaign this year. Last year at 3, the horse won three stakes, but yesterday was his first 1994 added-money victory.
Capuano said the horse will be aimed for the Oct. 1 Maryland Million Classic at 1 3/16 miles. Formerly, Jest Punching was kept primarily in sprints, but Capuano says he's better going long. Last year, Jest Punching finished second to Military Look in the Maryland Million Sprint Handicap.
NOTES: Finder's Choice, who was gelded after failing at stud duty at a couple of Maryland farms, recently died of colic at age dTC 9. The durable runner, who won stakes in five of the six years that he ran and earned more than $600,000, represented the United States last year in the Washington D.C. International, but finished sixth. . . . Paula Bacon, an apprentice at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., is expected to start riding in Maryland this week. Bacon has won 98 races. . . . The 16-year-old Maryland stallion, Salutely, is recuperating from a severe liver ailment, but is given only a 50 percent chance of survival. Salutely is the sire of multiple stakes winner Mz. Zill Bear, who recently returned from a three-stakes campaign in California and is in light training with Ron Cartwright at Laurel. . . . Because Philadelphia Park is shut down for a month, trainer Bob Camac has beefed up his Maryland division from six to 18 horses and plans to keep that number here through the fall. Camac's main string is regularly headquartered at the Philadelphia track.