Healthy 'Quest' set to run in Travers Breathing repaired, colt may be favored

August 27, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Sports fans all over the country watched the ugly scene on national TV: Coronado's Quest, the bad boy of racing, bucking, rearing and trying to dump his jockey, then apparently trying to mount the pony leading him onto the track.

The colt's behavior before the Florida Derby in March at Gulfstream Park was shocking. And then his performance on the track, fifth place after being eased in the stretch, was disconcerting.

On Saturday, however, Coronado's Quest will race in the Grade I, $750,000 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, seemingly reformed and -- with four straight wins -- again being talked about as the best 3-year-old in the land.

The transformation from rogue to possible Travers favorite is a story of patience, horse sense, unsettling and dangerous behavior, and a trainer and owner willing to place their horse's interest ahead of their own.

Minor surgery on the horse owned by Stuart S. Janney III, of Butler, played a role, too.

After the Florida Derby, Coronado Quest's trainer, Shug McGaughey, retreated with his wife to an obscure Italian restaurant where nobody knew them.

Yesterday, his assistant for 13 years, Buzz Tenney, reflected on what happened.

"I knew he was pretty tore up by that," Tenney said of the proud McGaughey, "I think 'embarrassed' is probably a pretty good word. When we go over to the paddock with a horse, he wants the horse to look great. He wants the people to look nice. He wants the image of this barn to be good at all times.

"But for a horse to go over there and act like that on national TV -- in front of all those people live, too -- that had to tear him up."

McGaughey agreed yesterday, calling the Florida Derby one of his low points as a trainer. But he also said: "I still think his future is in front of him. I think those problems are behind him."

Five months after the Florida Derby fiasco, McGaughey and his Coronado's Quest team -- Tenney, groom Alex Servin and exercise rider Adolph "Juice" Krajewski -- apparently have figured it out.

"I think Shug and Stuart's patience in not feeling that they had to go in the Kentucky Derby is why this horse is running this Saturday," Tenney said. "I think you've got to give Shug a tremendous amount of credit for making that decision, and you've got to give Stuart a tremendous amount of credit for agreeing with Shug and standing by that decision.

"Stuart's been around this game a long time. His parents have seen the best and seen the worst with Ruffian. Stuart's a good sportsman and a good sport. He's a smart guy. A lot of people would have said, 'Let's give it a try. We've got to do it.'"

Janney's parents campaigned Ruffian, the great filly who died after breaking down in her 1975 match race at Belmont Park with Foolish Pleasure, the Kentucky Derby winner. Janney watched the race with his parents.

This year's Florida Derby with Coronado's Quest, he said, was the second-worst day he's experienced in racing.

"I was afraid we might get to the point where the horse became a danger to himself, a danger to his jockey, and a danger to the people around him," Janney said.

After the Florida Derby, Janney and McGaughey prescribed for Coronado's Quest minor surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis, fixing a breathing problem. They had passed last year on doing the surgery.

The struggle for breath triggered the colt's unruly behavior, said exercise rider Krajewski.

"If I couldn't breathe, I wouldn't be too happy about it, either," he said, noting that he noticed a problem while galloping the horse as a 2-year-old. "It was almost like a gurgling noise."

McGaughey tried a tongue-tie and figure-eight bridle to aid the horse's breathing. He tried blinkers to block out distractions. They didn't help. Coronado's Quest began freezing on the way to the track.

'He wasn't happy'

Krajewski said he had to strike him with a whip to get him moving.

"Of course, he wasn't happy about that," Krajewski said. "He'd go out on the track, but the whole way around he'd just be pulling, and his ears would be pinned back."

Once, the exercise rider said, Coronado's Quest froze in the shed row. He struck him with his whip, and the colt reared up.

"I laid into him, and he went straight up like he was going over backward," Krajewski said. "But he actually sat on his hind legs like a dog.

"He just kind of sat there for about two seconds. I went ahead and grabbed his mane. I kicked him in the ribs, and he just jumped back up, and we went right on out the barn. I'll never forget it."

Neither horse nor rider was injured. But the incident illustrated the danger posed by an out-of-control Coronado's Quest.

Since surgery, however, Coronado's Quest has not misbehaved, say those who work with him. He prances and dances, but he has not acted dangerously.

Tenney, the assistant trainer, said the combination of surgery, returning to his home barn in New York, and maturity cured Coronado's Quest. Also, he said, other McGaughey and Janney decisions helped.

In addition to ordering the surgery and keeping Coronado's Quest out of the Kentucky Derby, where they feared he might unravel before the boisterous crowd, they agreed to pass other prestigious races and basically start over again in the Grade II seven-furlong Riva Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes day.

Coronado's Quest won the Riva Ridge and also has won his three other starts since then, most recently the $1 million Buick Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park on Aug. 9.

Said Tenney: "Those three or four decisions have made all the difference in the world in this horse being one of the top 3-year-olds in the country, as opposed to a horse turned out on a farm somewhere."

Travers Stakes

When: Saturday

Where: Saratoga

Purse: $750,000

Grade: I

Distance: 1 1/4 miles

TV: ESPN, 4: 30 p.m.

Co-favorites: Victory Gallop, Coronado's Quest

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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