'Change' rushes past weary two in 'George' Duel opens way to win in $200,000 handicap

February 18, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The second half of Laurel Park's Winter SprintFest went much like the first. An out-of-state horse galloped home the winner while the trainer stayed in Florida saddling a horse that lost.

Yesterday, it was Joseph H. Pierce Jr. who missed the celebration in the winner's circle. Why Change, a 4-year-old colt from Pierce's barn at Hialeah Park, powered down the homestretch and captured the $200,000 General George Handicap.

Saturday, trainer John Kimmel missed the backslaps after his Miss Golden Circle won the Barbara Fritchie Handicap. Kimmel stayed at Gulfstream Park and saddled a horse that finished ninth.

Pierce watched yesterday's race from the simulcast trailer at Gulfstream Park, where it was windy and cloudy. Then he went out and started a horse that ran sixth.

Asked whether he regretted not making the trip to Maryland, where the sun shined as a harbinger of spring, Pierce said: "I am kind of sorry now. But I did see a little snow behind the starting gate."

The Barbara Fritchie and the General George, seven-furlong sprints, sported $200,000 purses and Grade II ratings. That caught the eye of horsemen from Florida to New York, as well as more than 13,000 fans who attended Laurel Park for the two days of racing.

Yesterday, the crowd saw a couple of top sprinters, Appealing Skier and Romano Gucci, duel side-by-side for three-quarters of a mile. Unfortunately for those two, the race was an eighth of a mile farther.

Why Change bided his time in sixth place until Mark Guidry, his jockey from Chicago, gassed the colt around the turn, swung five-wide and passed the tiring leaders.

Why Change won by 2 3/4 lengths, paying $12.80 and earning $120,000 for his owner, Marvin Delfiner, a retired insurance executive who lives half the year in New York and half in Florida.

This was the largest paycheck for Why Change, a winner in 22 starts in seven races, including the Grade II Jerome Handicap last fall at Belmont Park.

Appealing Skier, the 9-5 favorite, held on for second, and 57-1 Le Grande Pos rallied for third. The exacta paid $46.20 and the trifecta $1,072.80.

With Pierce when he watched the race was Ben W. Perkins Sr., the trainer of 4-year-old Appealing Skier, who has raced against some of the top horses in the country.

"Ben called it in the trailer," Pierce said. "He said, 'The race sets up pretty good for your horse -- if that other horse runs with me.' "

That other horse was Romano Gucci. Breaking from the No. 1 post with Maryland's leading jockey, Edgar Prado, he popped out of the gate.

"The worst thing that happened was he broke so sharply," Prado said. "After that, I had to go out with Appealing Skier. He got caught up in a duel, and it got to him."

Aboard Why Change, whose last start, Nov. 20, was a fourth in the Grade I NYRA Mile at Aqueduct Park, Guidry sat patiently.

"We just told the jockey, 'Don't go ding-donging it with the two front-runners,' " said Delfiner, who did make the trip. " 'Just sit behind the pace. Make your move when it's time.' "

Guidry had wondered before the race whether the horse was fit after his layoff. But Pierce, who learned a thing or two from his father, Joseph Sr., an assistant for 20 years to the great Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, had Why Change sharp as an arrow in search of a bull's-eye.

"He promised me the horse was ready to run," Guidry said. 'He said, 'We're going to have a good, fun time.' And he was right."

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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