`Flag' shows staying power in Laurel win

Ritchey's sprinter finds longer distance to his liking

February 28, 1999|By Pete Bielski | Pete Bielski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Trainer Tim Ritchey took a horse where it had never gone before, and the horse responded by taking his boss to a familiar place.

This odd twist was accomplished by 5-year-old Up With The Flag, a fairly new acquisition to the Ritchey barn who had never been beyond a sprint in his 11-race career. That limit ended yesterday when "Flag" prevailed by a grudging nose in the 1 1/8-mile, $60,000 St. Brendan Stakes at Laurel Park. He defeated Perfect To A Tee in a grueling stretch drive, showing he has the stamina and courage to go beyond the limits of many a sprinter.

"The main reason I claimed him was to stretch him out," said Ritchey, Laurel's leading trainer with 10 wins in 30 races. "You could tell this horse wanted to go long just by the way he works out. When a sprinter goes two miles in the morning, he's tired at the end. This horse isn't. He has natural endurance."

The son of Time For a Change was originally trained by John Fisher, but Ritchey claimed him last November for $25,000 at Delaware Park. Since then, Ritchey has won two of three allowance sprints, bringing Ritchey and "Flag" to their moments of truth. With no sprint races available, the options were stakes races going long or claiming races.

Laurel's bettors sent him off a 7-2 co-second choice with Fred Bear Claw. With his sprinting instincts, "Flag" went right to the lead and maintained it throughout the first half mile in a moderate pace of 47.46 seconds. Big Rut and Eastover Faith stalked, but couldn't make up ground.

"Flag" put away his first two pursuers, but jockey Mario Pino let a rallying Perfect To a Tee get to his inside as the horses entered the stretch. Perfect To a Tee, with Al Cortez aboard, actually moved to the lead with 1/16th of a mile to go, but Pino managed to put his mount ahead at the wire to win. He paid $9.60 to win and keyed an exacta of $105.20. Fred Bear Claw held on for third.

Favored Waited, at 7-5, was a non-factor and finished fourth, four lengths back. Big Rut finished sixth in the seven-horse field.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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