OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Coronado's Quest, the one-time rogue owned by Stuart S. Janney III, shed his bad-boy label yesterday in winning the $1 million Buick Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park.
The striking 3-year-old chestnut colt held off Victory Gallop's charge down the stretch to capture the 1 1/8 -mile race by 1 1/4 lengths. The victory for Janney, who lives in Butler, was his first of a Grade I stakes -- and his first of a $1 million purse.
After receiving a champagne toast by track officials in the lovely Parterre Lounge, Janney said: "This makes up for a lot. I'd have loved to have gone in the Preakness, and I think the horse would have done great. But, I mean, here I own a horse that can run as well as he can. I don't think I can complain very much."
After skipping the Kentucky Derby because of pre-race temper tantrums -- freezing on the way to the track, bucking and dumping his rider -- Coronado's Quest missed the Preakness because of a bruised foot. Always regarded as one of the best 3-year-old thoroughbreds in the country, he compromised his chances on the track by his unruly behavior in the paddock.
But yesterday, after months of work by the trainer Shug McGaughey and his staff, Coronado's Quest ran to his potential and launched his bid for an Eclipse award as champion 3-year-old male.
"We're catching up, but we've got a little ways to go," McGaughey said. "People saw how he acted today. He was perfect. I always knew he had the ability if we could just ever get him settled in. I'm very, very proud of the horse. I think this was a great accomplishment for him. And I'm terribly happy for Stuart Janney, who is one of America's greatest people."
After the fiasco for Coronado's Quest in the Florida Derby -- he was eased up and finished fifth -- the colt underwent minor throat surgery to repair a breathing problem. He has since won four straight races.
"He's been a different horse," Janney said. "I don't think we've got a problem anymore. It looks to me that he might be all right to handle a paddock at Saratoga that's going to have a lot of people in it."
That would be Aug. 29 for the Travers Stakes, the next showdown for Coronado's Quest and Victory Gallop. The Travers' 1 1/4 miles and Saratoga's sweeping turns might return the advantage to Victory Gallop, who won the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont Stakes and finished second to Real Quiet in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
But the advantage yesterday was Coronado's Quest's. The bettors knew it, deeming him a 3-5 favorite over the 6-5 Victory Gallop.
As 40,405 fans roared -- a record for Haskell day -- the 76-1 long shot Arctic Sweep swept to the lead, Coronado's Quest hot on his heels. The 5-1 Grand Slam settled in behind those two. Down the backstretch, Victory Gallop languished nearly 10 lengths back.
Mike Smith urged Coronado's Quest slightly entering the far turn, and he shot past Arctic Sweep. Grand Slam challenged him around the turn, and Coronado's Quest held him off, too.
Finally, Victory Gallop charged along the rail. The roar of the crowd intensified, and Coronado's Quest ducked away from the noise toward the rail. As he neared the wire, he ducked in again in front of Victory Gallop.
Although that didn't appear to impede Victory Gallop, Victory Gallop's jockey Gary Stevens lodged an objection. The stewards ruled in favor of Coronado's Quest, and the order of finish held: Coronado's Quest by 1 1/4 lengths, Victory Gallop one-half length in front of Grand Slam, and then farther back Ian's Thunder, Tomorrows Cat and Arctic Sweep.
The winning time was 1 minute, 48 3/5 seconds, well off the stakes record of 1: 47. Coronado's Quest paid $3.40 to win, and the exacta returned $5.40, the trifecta $9.80.
Stevens said he believed that Coronado's Quest's drifting in cost Victory Gallop momentum.
"I thought I was going to get there," Stevens said. "Five jumps from the wire I still thought I had a chance. But then Coronado's Quest drifted over hard."
But by then Victory Gallop was not gaining on Coronado's Quest.
"I didn't feel like he was going to get by me," said Smith, Coronado's Quest's jockey. "We drifted in just a little bit when the crowd got to roaring there at the end. There was still room along the fence."
Stevens and Elliott Walden, trainer of Victory Gallop, said they look forward to the rematch in the Travers. Both said they thought their horse would fare better.
"Coronado's Quest had some advantages today," Walden said, referring to Monmouth Park's historically speed-favoring surface. "But we knew that when we came down here. We knew we were taking a shot on getting Victory Gallop beat.
"I've said all along it's a two-race series. We'll see what happens at Saratoga."
Smith said he thought Coronado's Quest would improve off the Haskell and be even tougher in the Travers.
"He just keeps impressing me every time I ride him," Smith said. "I don't ever feel like I've gotten to the bottom of him. I know there's still another gear there."
Pub Date: 8/10/98