Oliver's Twist went down to his first defeat at Gulfstream Park on Friday, but his trainer, Billy Boniface, is undeterred in his plans to run the Maryland-bred colt in two weeks in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes.
"He ate a lot of dirt" is how Boniface described the horse's nearly seven-length defeat behind four other Triple Crown nominees -- Jambalaya Jazz, Star Standard, Flitch (a half-brother to 1993 Preakness winner Prairie Bayou) and Amos.
"Sure, I'd like to see him still be undefeated," Boniface said. "But the jock [Mike Smith] didn't beat him up. It had been nearly a couple of months since his last start [in the Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel] and Mike said he got a little tired. We accomplished our main goal and that was to get a race into him before the Fountain of Youth."
That stakes is the last major prep for 3-year-olds before the Grade I Florida Derby on March 11.
Boniface said the horse encountered a few problems in Friday's race, including a slow start and being parked wide heading into the stretch.
"But Mike said afterward that he still wants to ride him back in the Fountain of Youth," Boniface said.
It's been slow going for Maryland's 3-year-old stakes hopefuls that have been wintering in South Florida.
First, Maryland-bred Cryptic Bid, listed as one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites, chipped an ankle and then nearly died from colic. He is out of the Triple Crown picture.
Then Bud Delp-trained Western Echo finished a well-beaten sixth last Saturday in the Hutcheson Stakes. Delp later explained that the horse is suffering from a bout of bronchitis, a factor that might keep him out of the Fountain of Youth, where, like Oliver's Twist, he was scheduled to be ridden by Smith.
Then, Oliver's Twist failed to distinguish himself in his 3-year-old debut.
"We might have lost the battle, but I'm not ready yet to concede the war," Boniface said. "We're staying on target with this horse and unless something physically wrong comes up with him, we'll live to fight again."
The Quicks start a trend
When the Laurel racing department decided to name a stakes race in honor of former Maryland-bred champion mare Kattegat's Pride in December, the horse's owners, Sue and Steve Quick from Harford County, said it would be a nice gesture to award $100 to the groom of the best turned-out horse in the Kattegat's Pride Stakes.
Little did the Quicks realize they'd start a trend.
Eastern Shore breeder Charles McGinnes thought the Quicks had come up with such a good idea, that he thought a similar gesture should be made next Sunday in the $50,000 Horatius Stakes. The race is named after the venerable Maryland sire who stands at McGinnes' Thornmar Farm in Chestertown.
But McGinnes has decided to take the Quicks' idea one step further.
"We'll not only give the groom of the winning horse $100," McGinnes said, "but if the winner is sired by Horatius, we'll award the groom $1,000."
There's no indication yet whether any Horatius offspring will be entered in the race, but backstretch personnel might want to check their horses' pedigrees.
Pimlico barn update
Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis said that obtaining permits from the City of Baltimore to build two new barns at Pimlico Race Course has taken longer than expected.
"But we'll tear down four old barns at Pimlico by March 15, and plan to have the steel up for two new barns by April. Then those new barns should be ready for occupancy by May," he said. "We'll take down 80 old stalls and replace them with 80 new stalls."
He added that there should be enough room to accommodate horsemen who regularly stable at Pimlico by the time the barn area reopens in March.
New national horsemen's organization
Discussions about forming a new national horsemen's organization, which might eventually replace the Horsemens' Benevolent and Protective Association as a national spokesman for owners and trainers, were held in Florida last week.
Horsemen's organizations from seven jurisdictions in the East and Midwest, including Maryland, attended the meeting. One of the architects of the program is Baltimore equine attorney Alan Foreman.
Several regional divisions of the HBPA have broken away from the national organization during the last few years, weakening the association's effectiveness.
But Foreman said no final decision has been reached concerning organizing the new group into a national association.
Centennial steeplechase celebration
The National Steeplechase Association, which is headquartered in Cecil County at the Fair Hill Race Course, is celebrating its 100th birthday in 1995.
Joe Clancy, in charge of public relations for the group, said that the centennial celebration will include adopting a new NSA logo, organizing a steeplechase exhibit at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga, N.Y., and planning a fund-raising campaign to ensure the sport's future.
The association currently officiates at 40 race meets in 12 states, which distribute nearly $4 million annually in steeplechase purses.
SNOW CLOSES LAUREL, ROSECROFT
Snow forced cancellation of yesterday's thoroughbred card at Laurel Park and last night's harness card at Rosecroft Raceway. Racing is scheduled to resume today at Laurel, with the Hoover Stakes, originally scheduled for yesterday, on the card as the 11th race. Rosecroft is scheduled to resume racing Tuesday.