G. O'Keefe completes wild turnaround 4-year-old reclaims lead down stretch run to win Racing Writers' Handicap

January 18, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The first time G. O'Keefe was led onto the track to race, she wanted to do one thing. She wanted to go home.

She threw her rider, bolted down the track, jumped a rail, ran through the backstretch straight to her barn and then, she walked directly into her stall.

Her trainer, Donald Barr, said she was afraid of horses. Her breeder, the veterinarian Tom Bowman, said "afraid" might be too human a term for the filly G. O'Keefe.

"In the established pecking order, she wasn't top dog," said Bowman, who watched her grow up timidly on the farm. "That was just her position in life."

Yesterday, one year after that fearful experience, the 4-year-old G. O'Keefe displayed courage, losing the lead down the stretch and then reclaiming it to capture the 1 1/8 -mile Maryland Racing Writers' Handicap at Laurel Park.

"We always thought she could run," Barr said. "She was just a strange filly. It's been a long process with her."

After a year of human contact and equine company at Laurel, G. O'Keefe has developed into a stakes-winning filly with a bankroll of $232,930. In 15 tries, she has won seven and finished second four times.

Although she has become more accustomed to members of her own breed, she still prefers as little company as possible, Barr said. He was relieved when three of the seven entrants were scratched.

The four remaining fillies and mares raced together until the far turn, when Double Stake stuck his head in front. She and G. O'Keefe battled around the turn until Double Stake began to falter.

See Your Point, the 4-5 favorite on a three-race win streak, took up the chase from the outside. She and G. O'Keefe stormed down the stretch side-by-side. See Your Point gained the lead and looked as if she would pull away. But G. O'Keefe prevailed at the end by a nose.

"She had me," said G. O'Keefe's jockey Mark Johnston of See Your Point and her rider Mario Pino. "But my horse battled back.

"I looked over at Mario and said, 'Who won?' He said he wasn't sure."

G. O'Keefe returned $7.40 to win bettors and earned $31,935 of the $53,225 purse for her owner Milton P. Higgins III, who remained home in Hawaii. An art lover, Higgins named the filly after the great artist Georgia O'Keeffe. One "f" was somehow dropped.

The paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe are powerful and bold, traits her equine namesake rejected when first her hoofs stepped upon the palette.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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