Toughening G. O'Keefe wins Snow Goose Formerly frightened filly shows heart in handicap

March 15, 1998|By Pete Bielski | Pete Bielski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The first time the filly G. O'Keefe stepped onto the race track, she jumped a fence and ran home, showing a bad case of nerves. Yesterday, she was steady and resolute.

A narrow hole between the filly Assault John and the always-dangerous rail opened up and G. O'Keefe didn't hesitate.

With jockey Mark Johnston steering the 4-year-old into the tight quarters with confidence, she came home with the winner's share in the $50,000-added Snow Goose Handicap.

"It's been a long, hard journey with her," said trainer Donald Barr. "She's been known to be all over the track.

"In her first five races, she wouldn't have gone down the rail in 100 years. Now, Mark was confident that she would go through."

The home-bred daughter of Smartly has always had talent. In a 16-race career, she now has eight wins -- including four stakes -- and $265,000 in earnings.

Now, with her new-found tenacity, owner Milton Higgins has yet another member of his stable with great earnings potential. G. O'Keefe will now be pointed toward several more added-money races for Maryland-breds.

Yesterday, G. O'Keefe was a two-length winner over Truth and Nobility. Assault John held on for third and favored See Your Point was fourth.

As expected, Assault John sped to an early lead and was pursued by Double Stake, the other speed horse in the race.

Johnston, starting in the No. 2 post position, stayed on the rail behind Assault John and said he decided to save ground and take his chances on G. O'Keefe's improving bravery.

It proved a perfect strategy. As See Your Point, Truth and Nobility and Double Stake ganged up outside of Assault John on the turn for home, Assault John's jockey, Greg Hutton, had little choice but to try to take his foes a bit wider.

It opened the hole for Johnston.

"I was hoping that he Greg would give up on me being there late and start worrying about the guys on the outside," said Johnston. "I'm saying to myself, if he does, I'm a winner."

"She really seems to be getting better at things now," said Johnston. "She doesn't mind going through the tight spots now. She used to be kind of intimidated.

"I used to have to take her on the outside of horse. But the rail's been good and I really didn't want to take her out there today and lose all that ground."

Laurel's week

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Pub Date: 3/15/98

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