Vanderbilt dream lives in Traitor

ON HORSE RACING

September 29, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The record of the horse's trip reads: ". roughed at the first turn . eased back . raced wide . finished strongly, but could not overtake the winner, although probably best."

The horse was Native Dancer. The race was the 1953 Kentucky Derby. In Native Dancer's extraordinary career at the racetrack -- that turned into an extraordinary career in the breeding shed -- Alfred G. Vanderbilt's gray colt won 20 of 21 starts, every one except that fateful Kentucky Derby.

Now Vanderbilt, 84, owns a 2-year-old colt who perhaps allows the former owner of Baltimore County's Sagamore Farm to dream again about finally standing in the winner's circle after the world's most famous race. And that colt resides in a barn at Pimlico.

His name is Traitor, a Kentucky-bred son of Cryptoclearance who gained national prominence two weeks ago by winning the Grade I Futurity at Belmont Park. He is trained by Maryland native Mary Eppler.

"I'm a long way from thinking about that yet," Vanderbilt said when asked about next May's Kentucky Derby. "You've got to take it a race at a time."

But Vanderbilt acknowledges that he still thinks about the '53 Kentucky Derby.

"He was the best horse by far," he said of Native Dancer, off-strided when another horse slammed into him at the turn. "He should have won. He was going to win it in another stride."

The courageous comeback of the 3-5 Native Dancer fell a head short. At 24-1, Dark Star held on to pull off the upset.

But this is a new day, and the hot 2-year-old horse in the East is Traitor. In its ranking of top contenders for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 26 at Woodbine, the Daily Racing Form lists Traitor second behind the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Boston Harbor. But Traitor may not make the trip to Toronto.

His next race is Saturday's $400,000 Moet Champagne Stakes, an 8 1/2 -furlong dash for 2-year-olds at Belmont. Eppler had hoped instead to enter Traitor in the Grey Stakes the next day at Woodbine, and then, if he ran well, keep him there for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile three weeks later.

"But Mr. Vanderbilt thinks his 3-year-old year is more important than the Breeders' Cup," Eppler says.

Vanderbilt, who lives in New York, said he hasn't completely ruled out the prestigious race at Woodbine. But he's well aware that no horse has won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then the Kentucky Derby.

"We'll decide after the Champagne," Vanderbilt said.

In February, he sent Eppler, his trainer of five years, to Florida to buy a promising 2-year-old colt. She returned with Traitor, for whom she paid $102,000. He won his first start July 20 at Laurel Park and finished third Aug. 16 at Saratoga after a rough trip. Then he rallied from off the pace Sept. 15 to win the Futurity.

"He came back good, real fresh," Eppler said. "That's what tells you he's a good horse."

Somebody else thinks so, too. After hearing that jockey John Velazquez couldn't ride Traitor in the Champagne because of a scheduling conflict, another jockey phoned Vanderbilt and asked for the mount. The jockey? Jerry Bailey.

Bailey will ride Traitor and then straddle the big horse, Cigar, who races the same day in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. His likely opposition includes the 3-year-old standouts Skip Away, Louis Quatorze and Editor's Note, as well as the reliable L'Carriere, who has earned a small fortune for his owner, Virginia Kraft Payson, running second to Cigar.

Furey still idea man

E. William Furey, the new chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, knows something about the job. He held it from 1984 to 1988. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has named Furey, 66, a lawyer from Montgomery County, to succeed Allan C. Levey, who resigned in July.

Asked about goals for his second stint, Furey said: "I've been out of the loop for a long time."

Then he engaged in a lively discussion about slot machines, Maryland racing, his love of horses and the sport, and perhaps his greatest strength: ideas.

As for slots, he said the issue is beyond the scope of the racing commission. He said that they surely would help racing but that the issue is not that simple.

Although he wouldn't lobby the General Assembly to adopt slots, he said, he perhaps would urge legislators to approve guaranteed loans or direct subsidies to racetracks. The money could pay for facility renovations, which might improve attendance, he said. It also could help finance the promotion and marketing of the sport's greatest asset: the horse.

Furey said he looks forward to brainstorming about ways to help Maryland racing. In the late 1980s, he came up with the idea of Laurel and Pimlico's televising each other's races, so bettors could sample the wares without driving great distances.

He also came up with some ideas that never saw the light of day, he said, laughing, such as this one: Allow customers to buy a subscription, as the lottery does, of, say, a 7-2-5 trifecta in the fifth race every Friday as a gift for Aunt Betty, who then might become a racing fan herself.

Lang busy in Texas

Chick Lang has accepted the post of senior racing consultant to Lone Star Park, a horse track under construction outside Dallas. Lang, 69, is the former executive vice president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club.

His new job won't force him to move, he said, but will involve a lot of traveling. Lang's duties will include recruiting owners, trainers and jockeys to Lone Star Park, scheduled to open in April, and assisting in such things as office and stable design.

"I enjoy doing those things," Lang said. "Anytime I can help open a racetrack or contribute something to racing, I get genuinely excited."

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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