One year after Cigar's winning streak electrified the racing world, another Maryland-bred on a sensational run has begun captivating racing fans.
Sanabelle Island, a 3-year-old filly, has won 19 races in a row -- and has never lost. She risks her perfect record tonight at Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County.
"She's starting to get a little bit famous," said her driver and trainer Steve Warrington, of Galena, on the Eastern Shore. "But the book's still open on her. It's hard to say what this filly might be before the year's out. She could be truly exceptional."
Sanabelle Island has proved already to be exceptional. She won all 15 of her races last year as a 2-year-old pacing filly. (Pacers move both legs on the same side forward at the same time; trotters move their right front and left hind legs forward at the same time.)
Her 15 races were all in Maryland at Rosecroft and Ocean Downs. This year, as a 3-year-old, she has started stepping out of state and taking on the top fillies in the country.
Already, she has added four victories to the streak. She is closing in on the all-time record of 24 in a row by a pacing filly, set by Handle With Care in 1973-74.
The record for consecutive wins by any standardbred is 35 by the pacing colt Bret Hanover in 1964-65.
"The reason Sanabelle Island is just starting to get national attention is because she didn't race against the best horses last year," said Bruce Brinkerhoff of the U.S. Trotting Association in Columbus, Ohio. "This year, she's racing against fillies on the national scene. She's beaten some of the better fillies but hasn't really tackled the very best yet."
Warrington, her 45-year-old Eastern Shore driver and trainer, said she remained in Maryland last year because she hadn't been nominated to the top stakes out of state.
But this year, he said, her owners have paid the $40,000 to $50,000 late-supplemental fees to make her eligible for the richest filly pacer stakes in the country.
She wasn't nominated last year because of her humble beginnings. By In The Pocket out of Sanbelle Hanover, she was born at the sprawling Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City and then sold for a modest $5,500 as a yearling in Keeneland, Ky.
Jerry Wyatt of Ocean City bought her. He enlisted Tom Jackson to drive her. But after piloting her to two victories, Jackson broke a leg when a horse kicked him. Wyatt hired Warrington to drive.
"I raced her a couple of times, and then I asked Jerry if she was for sale," said Warrington, who grew up in a harness racing family and has driven and trained Standardbreds since high school. "And Jerry said, 'Yeah, for $100,000.' So I called my owner, and he said, 'If you like her that much, buy her.' "
Warrington brokered the deal for his owner Lloyd Arnold and Arnold's friend, Ed Allred, a couple of Californians who own horses as well as racetracks. Warrington turned out to be an excellent judge of talent.
But Warrington is concerned about her chances tonight in the first leg of the Maryland Sire Stakes (for horses sired by Maryland stallions).
First, Sanabelle Island drew the disadvantageous No. 7 post. And second, she has not raced since May 23, when she passed her toughest test, the $190,000 American-National at Sportsman's Park near Chicago.
Sanabelle Island won that race by a nose in a photo finish -- on national TV as part of the weekly American Championship Harness Series on ESPN2. (As testament to Sanabelle Island's increasing popularity, ESPN2 has added her race tonight to its harness broadcast from 10: 30 to 11: 30.)
"This should be one of her easier races," Warrington said. "But I'm not doing my Muhammad Ali routine yet.
"She's not going to be as good as she could be, because she's been off a month. She likes to race a little more often than that. And, as anybody who watches races knows, there's not a horse alive who doesn't get beat sooner or later."
Pub Date: 6/20/97