Countess Diana wins by 8 1/2 Second-largest margin in Breeders' Cup history thrills Marylanders

November 09, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- On a day when top-name horses from some of the world's great stables competed in Breeders' Cup races televised around the world, a classy filly conceived and developed in Maryland soared to the pinnacle of her division.

Countess Diana surely earned an Eclipse Award for 2-year-old filly when she crushed her 13 opponents in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies yesterday at Hollywood Park. As Patrick Byrne, a mild-mannered trainer from Kentucky, received the credit for Countess Diana, as well as his unbeaten 2-year-old colt Favorite Trick, a group of Marylanders stood in the background -- and celebrated as if they had struck oil.

"She kicked their butts, didn't she?" Audrey Murray said.

"It's once-in-a-lifetime to be connected with a horse like this," Allen Murray said.

Attending the races in California for the first time, the Murrays own Murmur Farm in Harford County. Deerhound, the sire of Countess Diana, resided there until his recent sale and transfer to Brookdale Farm in Kentucky.

Herman J. Kossow, an 81-year-old dentist in Washington, bred his mare T.V. Countess to Deerhound, and then sold the pregnant mare. Nancy and Richard Kaster, horse owners from Wisconsin, bought her, and then sent the foal back to Maryland to one of their trainers, Carlos Garcia.

The foal became Countess Diana. Garcia and his wife, Carol, developed the filly at Sagamore Farm. In her first start in June at Pimlico, she smashed the long-standing record for 4 1/2 furlongs. Then, the Kasters transferred Countess Diana to Byrne at Churchill Downs.

"I'm very happy, like I'm the trainer anyway," said Carlos Garcia, who also flew to California for the races.

He said he trained the filly to conserve energy and pass horses, not streak into the lead as she had for Byrne. Yesterday, Countess Diana, with Shane Sellers in the irons, broke second behind Bay Harbor, but then blew past on the final turn and scampered off to win by 8 1/2 lengths, the second-largest margin in Breeders' Cup history.

Countess Diana's time for the 1 1/16 miles, 1 minute, 42 seconds, was the fastest of 14 Juvenile Fillies races. My Flag set the old mark, 1: 42 2/5, two years ago at Belmont Park.

"We call her the businesswoman," Garcia said of Countess Diana, whose matter-of-fact demeanor was striking. "She's all business."


Byrne stated his case for the Eclipse Award as trainer, and Favorite Trick clinched the award as 2-year-old male, when the undefeated colt glided to a 5 1/2 -length victory. Like his stablemate, Favorite Trick set a Juvenile record of 1: 41 2/5 -- one-fifth second faster than Unbridled's Song two years ago at Belmont Park.

The victory was Favorite Trick's eighth in eight starts. No other 2-year-old has won so many races in a row since 1952, when Native Dancer won nine. Byrne said Favorite Trick and Countess Diana would take the winter off and then gear up at Gulfstream Park in Florida for their 3-year-old seasons.

No Juvenile winner has won the Kentucky Derby, and Byrne acknowledged that Favorite Trick might not be the first. The colt is a son of Phone Trick, a sprinter, and his pedigree would seem insufficient for the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby.

"If we don't make Derby day," Byrne said, "there's a nice race the week before, the Derby Trial."

The Trial is one mile.

Bob Baffert's pair of 2-year-olds, both potential Kentucky Derby contenders, fared poorly. Baffert criticized Chris McCarron's ride aboard Souvenir Copy, saying he allowed the young Mr. Prospector colt to fall back too far early. Souvenir Copy finished fourth.

Johnbill, the colt Baffert said was his leading Derby prospect, tangled with Grand Slam on the way to the first turn. He finished fifth, but Grand Slam, one of trainer D. Wayne Lukas's top Derby hopes, was eased in the stretch.

Johnbill's hoofs cut him to the bone in his left hind leg. Grand Slam, the 2-1 second choice, walked back to the barn, where veterinarians treated the nasty gashes.


The Maryland trainer Bill Boniface could only shake his head after Ops Smile finished a disappointing seventh in the $2 million race, won by the Canadian colt Chief Bearhart.

"He might have moved a little too soon," said Boniface of jockey Jean-Luc Samyn, who hustled the 5-year-old gray horse down the backstretch. "He said he moved when the winner moved. Well, that's the winner's style to move then."

Ops Smile's style is to accelerate late and run down the leaders. Chief Bearhart, who inherited the favorite's role after Singspiel suffered an injury, rallied from eighth to win his fifth race this year in seven starts. His time of 2: 23 4/5 bettered Fraise's 2: 24 in the 1992 Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park.

Awad, like Ops Smile a Maryland-bred son of Caveat, never threatened and finished ninth. His trainer, David Donk, said: "He didn't run a jump. He looked OK after the race. I don't know what was wrong."

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