It was a long time coming, but yesterday Traitor joined the herd stampeding toward the Kentucky Derby. He won a non-betting race at a Florida training center by "a desperate head."
Those were the words of Jay Friedman, an official of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., which sponsored the $100,000 race for horses that had passed through the sale. Trained by the Pimlico-based Mary Eppler, Traitor was making his belated 3-year-old debut after recovering from a training accident last month at Hialeah Park.
Although the margin of victory in the 1 1/16-mile race was not large, the manner of Traitor's triumph was impressive, Friedman said.
"It was a very good race for his first time back," Friedman said. "At the eighth pole, it didn't look like he had any chance of getting up. But once he was able to look that other horse in the eye, he beat him. His class showed."
That other horse was Hamilton Creek, the most accomplished runner in the eight-horse field besides Traitor. Hamilton Creek had won two of six starts.
At the direction of his jockey Shane Sellers, Hamilton Creek pinned Traitor along the rail in the deepest part of the racetrack.
"He told me he did it on purpose, trying everything he could to beat Traitor," Friedman said. He quoted Sellers as saying: "It took a hell of a horse to win from down there."
John Velazquez rode Traitor. Eppler had considered the Tampa Bay Derby on Sunday for Traitor's coming-out, but decided on Ocala partly because it was more convenient for Velazquez.
This was Traitor's first race since October, when he finished second in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. The month before, he won the Grade I Futurity Stakes at Belmont.
Eppler and Vanderbilt skipped the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Woodbine and aimed the horse instead toward the Kentucky Derby. His major Derby prep is expected to be the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 12 at Aqueduct Park.
Pub Date: 3/25/97