MATCH's photo finish: series down to last race 'Champ' fails to clinch

Palliser Bay tops division

October 05, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

STANTON, Del. -- After six months of 35 races at nine tracks in five states, the inaugural MATCH series came down to one race.

Late last night, the 5-year-old gelding Cat Be Nimble ran at Penn National for top honors in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships. A victory in the $50,000 Mario Beneito Memorial Handicap would earn bonuses of $40,000 for his Delaware Park-based trainer Tim Ritchey and $120,000 for his owner, Candy Stable.

Cat Be Nimble's race became decisive when American Champ, a 3-year-old colt also based at Delaware Park, faded to third yesterday afternoon in the $75,000 Montpelier Stakes at Colonial Downs. American Champ could have clinched the overall point title by finishing first or second at the southern Virginia track.

If that sounds complicated to you, it brought nothing but smiles to the organizers of MATCH, the innovative series of races worth $4 million in purses and bonuses. MATCH marked the first time in racing history that tracks and horsemen joined together for a regional competition.

"I think for the first year it went very well," said Charles Lockhart, executive director of MATCH. "We got a storybook finish, going down to the last race on the last night."

MATCH consisted of five divisions of seven races each. Horses earned points ranging from six for a victory to one for a fifth-place finish. Yesterday, as MATCH concluded with five final races, division champions were crowned. The champions with the most points vied for the overall title and rich bonuses.

At Delaware Park, the 5-year-old mare Palliser Bay won her division -- fillies and mares 3 years and older on turf -- by finishing third in the $100,000 Grade II All Along Stakes. For winning the division she earned $20,000 for her owners, Elizabeth and Edward Houghton, long-time horse owners from Chestertown.

"We've loved the series, and not just because we won the division," Edward Houghton said. "We've followed the point totals every week. We just hope we have a horse good enough to run in it next year."

Palliser Bay also finished third in the overall standings -- behind American Champ and Cat Be Nimble -- earning an additional $39,000 for the Houghtons and $13,000 for Maryland trainer Ron Cartwright.

The Jonathan Sheppard-trained Beyrouth and the French-bred Hero's Pride, winner and runner-up in the All Along Stakes, were not in the running for division honors because this was their first MATCH race.

Other division winners were Leestown (3-year-old long on dirt), Wild Deputy (3 years and older long on dirt), American Champ (3-year-old sprint) and Cat Be Nimble (3 years and older sprint).

The standings going into last night's final race:

American Champ, 29 points; Cat Be Nimble, 23; Palliser Bay, 18; Sangria, 16; Wild Deputy, 15; Overcharger, 15; Wire Me Collect, 13; Leestown, 11; Tough Broad, 11; Take Aim, 10.

Alan Foreman, founder of MATCH, said the series accomplished its mission of coordinating stakes races throughout the region, rewarding owners and creating interesting racing. Also, he said, the series appealed to gamblers, whose bets increased significantly on MATCH races.

"It'll be up to the tracks and the horsemen whether we have it again next year," Foreman said. "But I would be shocked if they didn't want to continue it. I think we've created a signature event in the industry."

At 3 p.m. tomorrow, ESPN2 will broadcast a 30-minute show on the MATCH series.

Simulcast schedule

Today Delaware 12: 45 p.m.

Belmont 1 p.m.

Colonial Downs 1 p.m.

Keeneland 1: 10 p.m.

Arlington 2 p.m.

La. Downs 2 p.m.

Santa Anita 3: 30 p.m.

Bay Meadows 3: 45 p.m.

Tomorrow

No simulcast racing

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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