Comic Strip a good read at La. Derby Favorite races from last to first in nose triumph

March 16, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- Comic Strip joined stablemate Lil's Lad as a major Kentucky Derby contender yesterday by winning the $500,000 Louisiana Derby in a dramatic last-to-first dash at the Fair Grounds.

Shane Sellers rode the laid-back Red Ransom colt, the 9-5 favorite, to a nose triumph over 34-1 long shot Nite Dreamer. Twenty-four hours earlier at Gulfstream Park, Sellers rode Cape Town in the Florida Derby to a stirring victory -- by disqualification -- over Lil's Lad.

That's two wins for Sellers, but a split decision for Neil Howard, who trains Comic Strip and Lil's Lad.

After the Florida Derby, in one of those quirky coincidences particular to horse racing, Sellers and Howard -- on opposite teams hours before -- boarded a plane together for the flight to New Orleans and partnership with Comic Strip.

"I flew down here with him last night," Howard said, "and I was mad at him, too, because he got me yesterday. I said, 'Man, you're going to have to ride the race of your life tomorrow, or else I'll never talk to you again.' "

Howard was kidding, and Sellers knew it.

"In fact," Sellers said, "when I got back to the barn after the Florida Derby, Neil was the first one to come out and give me a hug. He wanted to let me know that he was really happy for me -- and let me know that's horse racing."

Sellers may not have ridden the race of his life, but quick responses to avoid a broken-down horse preserved victory for Comic Strip -- and the good graces of Howard. On the far turn, as Comic Strip roared from the rear, Dixie Dynamo broke down in front of him.

"I had to snatch my colt up big time," Sellers said. "It cost me momentum. But my horse is a fighter. He really took me home."

Comic Strip traversed the 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 43 1/5 seconds. He paid $5.60 to win. Nite Dreamer, a Canadian-bred trained by the Irishman Niall O'Callaghan, rallied from seventh for second, followed by Captain Maestri, Time Limit (the early leader), Souvenir Copy (the 2-1 second choice), Cowboy Dan, Tap Dancing, Excellent Luck and Heart Surgeon. Dixie Dynamo, who snapped his left front cannon bone, was euthanized on the track.

The exacta paid $108.60, the trifecta $701.40.

Comic Strip is probably headed to the Arkansas Derby on April 11 at Oaklawn Park, Howard said. Lil's Lad, the future-book Kentucky Derby favorite, is slated to race the same day in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year, is also scheduled for the Blue Grass. But Coronado's Quest, the hot-tempered colt owned by Stuart S. Janney III, is not.

Yesterday, his trainer, Shug McGaughey, said the colt, fifth in the six-horse Florida Derby, is likely off the Kentucky Derby trail. He said that the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 11 at Aqueduct is possible, but that the Derby was "a long shot."

Although Coronado's Quest's breathing in the 1 1/8 -mile Florida Derby may have been impaired by a displaced soft palate, McGaughey said he didn't accept that as an excuse for the colt's poor performance.

"I'm beginning to think that deep down maybe he doesn't want to run that far," McGaughey said.

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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