'Countess' takes Goose, justifies Fergusons' faith 3-length win makes up for failure at Aqueduct

March 23, 1997|By Pete Bielski | Pete Bielski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Being an owner, breeder, trainer, farmer and even the feed man on his farm, John Ferguson defines horse racing's home-bred side. Even his wife, Aileen, breaks the yearlings at Hargett Farms in Clarksburg.

Although Ferguson does it all, yesterday he experienced a first -- winning a stakes race.

Doing the honors at Laurel Park was Aileen's Countess, a 5-year-old mare who took the winner's share of the $50,000 Snow Goose Handicap by three lengths.

Fittingly, the victory was secured by a horse named after Aileen Ferguson. The Fergusons were smiling in the winner's circle, knowing they had beaten some of the state's biggest outfits for a sizable purse with the star of their two-horse, two-worker stable.

"This whole thing is a great challenge," said John Ferguson, 54. "But that's why I do it -- the challenge of doing something that can't be done. This is what I've been trying to do for 10 years. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."

Aileen's Countess overcame the outside post in yesterday's 1 1/8 -mile race, receiving a patient ride from jockey Alberto Delgado, who put Ferguson's entry behind pacesetters Duchess Diva and The Administrator.

Delgado then moved Aileen's Countess into a powerful stretch run, as she out-kicked Palliser Bay for victory in 1: 49 1/5. She paid $12.40 to win.

Co-favorites See Your Point and Profit Column were nonfactors, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively.

The victory allowed Ferguson to forget a disastrous trip to New York earlier this month, when Aileen's Countess ran last in the Grade III Next Move Handicap at Aqueduct.

Ever the optimist, Ferguson was confident he could take his horse to New York and overcome many obstacles. But the mare didn't ship well, didn't eat her oats on race morning, received a different kind of Lasix treatment and generally was facing

tougher competition.

All the same, Ferguson thought the race was better-suited to Aileen's Countess, who could have stayed at home and faced sprinters in a seven-furlong stakes.

"This is a distance horse and I didn't think it was wise to put her in a sprint," he said. "I thought this mare could run up there and beat those other horses despite the problems. I was confident, but I'm always confident."

If there was one positive about the trip to Aqueduct it was the stretch run. Once Aileen's Countess fell out of contention, jockey Elaina Sheridan didn't push her hard in the stretch.

Ferguson replaced the 99-pound Sheridan for the Snow Goose partly because the mare was assigned 115 pounds and he didn't want to carry 16 pounds of dead weight in the saddle

It was Delgado's first time on the horse, though he has won numerous races for Ferguson, including the first of his career at Bowie in 1986.

Ferguson owned four shares of the stallion John Alden, a longtime successful but modest stud in Maryland and the sire of Aileen's Countess. Five years ago, he sold one of his four shares to raise enough capital to acquire the services of the stallion Dancing Count, a longtime producer in the region. He matched him with his prize broodmare Aileen's Alden and the offspring was Aileen's Countess.

I always wanted to breed to [Dancing Count], but I could never afford it," Ferguson said. "I finally decided to do it when Dancing Count turned 20 and his price was coming down a bit."

It was the perfect mating. Aileen's Countess has now won five of 17 races, putting her career earnings at about $115,000.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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