Concerto hits right notes it's sweet music for trainer

Tammaro eager for Derby, but decision not yet made

March 31, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

FLORENCE, Ky. -- At opposite ends of Barn 27 at Turfway Park, opposing emotions prevailed.

Standing yesterday outside Stall 51, John Tammaro III had fun with the Jim Beam Stakes winner, Concerto. Concerto stuck out his thick tongue, and Tammaro grabbed it and rubbed gently.

"You watch these kind of horses run all the time for other people," said Tammaro, who grew up in Baltimore and lives in Howard County. "You don't realize how great it is until you have one of your own."

On Saturday, Concerto commanded center stage in the Triple Crown drama with a 2 1/2 -length victory in the $600,000 Jim Beam Stakes at this track in northern Kentucky. He is to arrive this afternoon back at Tammaro's barn at Laurel Park, where he'll train most likely for the Federico Tesio Stakes on April 19 at Pimlico. A Kentucky Derby berth May 3 could follow.

At the opposite end of Barn 27, Bob Baffert stood outside Stall 15. It was empty.

In the Jim Beam, Inexcessivelygood, a 3-year-old colt the California trainer was preparing for the Kentucky Derby, shattered his right front ankle and was destroyed.

"I still can't believe that horse broke down," said Baffert, who lost last year's Derby runner-up, Cavonnier, to a career-ending injury in the Belmont. "I just can't believe it."

Inexcessivelygood, a striking colt with a glistening coat, broke down after running extremely fast in second place for most of the 1 1/8 -mile race, gaining the lead at the head of the

homestretch and then, finally, reasserting himself when Concerto challenged him with an eighth-mile to go.

"He was getting a little rubber-legged there at the end," Baffert said. "But he dug in and put up such a fight. That's what cost him his life."

Inexcessivelygood apparently overextended his limits as a racehorse. Fatigued, but ever willing, he took a misstep that proved fatal.

His jockey, Chris McCarron, fell and broke three ribs. Yesterday, he flew home to California. He is to see a doctor today about when he can return to work. In jeopardy are his several potential Kentucky Derby mounts.

Meanwhile, Tammaro plans to return to Maryland on Wednesday, two days after Concerto. Once the horse settles in at Laurel, Maryland will be home to three of the top 3-year-olds in the land. Traitor is stabled at Pimlico and Captain Bodgit at the Bowie Training Center.

After Concerto's dominance of a strong Jim Beam field, his owners cast doubts on his prospects of running in the Kentucky Derby. George Steinbrenner owns Concerto, but his son, Hank, manages the family horse business.

Hank Steinbrenner said Concerto would run in the Tesio at Pimlico, and then possibly skip the Derby in favor of the Preakness. But Tammaro said yesterday that plans aren't finalized.

"If we do run him before the Derby, I want the easiest spot I can find," he said. "But if we decide not to run him, I'd have no problem training him up to the Derby."

Despite the repeated references to the Derby, Tammaro stressed that the Steinbrenners have not yet signed off on the trip to Churchill Downs. But Tammaro, clearly, would love to go.

He has never raced in the Derby. Concerto is the best horse he has trained. In winning six races at five tracks -- all at distances of 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles -- Concerto has joined the elite few who have earned a chance at the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

"He's a classy colt," Tammaro said. "He's tough. He's handling the grind. He hasn't backed up from anything yet."

Pub Date: 3/31/97

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