For ripe results, `Lemon' needs sunshine

Fast track at Travers is key for 3-year-old

August 27, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Lemon Drop Kid reared, shook his head and pawed at the raindrops yesterday as if to plead: Rain, rain, go away ...

The forecast calls for scattered showers leading into the Travers Stakes tomorrow at Saratoga. Lemon Drop Kid, the sculpted brown colt owned by Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, doesn't like mud. Whether he leaps into the forefront of the 3-year-old division will likely depend on track conditions for the "midsummer Derby."

"In a nutshell, we're all pretty confident," said Vance as she and Dance watched their colt get his daily bath on the tranquil Saratoga backstretch. "He looks the part. He acts the part. Hopefully the weather will give us a break, and he'll get a dry track."

Married with different last names, Vance and Dance own Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks. They live there part time and also own homes in southern Florida and in Saratoga Springs.

The Vance-Dance partnership received national exposure in June when Lemon Drop Kid won the Belmont Stakes and denied Charismatic the Triple Crown. Although Lemon Drop Kid returned $61.50 for a $2 win bet, his owners and trainer Scotty Schulhofer have contended all year that he is one of the best horses in the country.

And Schulhofer, a member of racing's Hall of Fame, has conditioned the colt with the late-season races in mind, starting with the Travers. Although the weather could dampen his enthusiasm, Schulhofer brightens when discussing the horse.

"I hope we get the kind of racetrack he likes," Schulhofer said. "If we do, I think he'll win."

As Lemon Drop Kid bowed his neck and flexed his muscles after a crisp three-furlong workout, Schulhofer admired the good-looking son of Kingmambo. He said he has filled out since the Belmont and grown even stronger and more aggressive.

"He's doing better than I've ever seen a horse do," Schulhofer said.

Schulhofer has seen some horses do quite well. He trained four Eclipse Award winners (Mac Diarmida, Smile, Fly So Free and Rubiano) as well as Belmont winner Colonial Affair.

He is soft-spoken and reserved -- except when Lemon Drop Kid is concerned. The colt won the Grade I Futurity at Belmont Park as a 2-year-old and then, after turning 3 Jan. 1 along with every other horse born in 1996, was brought along slowly in typical Schulhofer fashion.

"I just don't crucify them trying to get them to the Derby," he said, referring to the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May. "I like to take my time. I like to have a little left in the tank."

He was especially cautious with Lemon Drop Kid, a May 28 foal and the youngest horse in this year's Derby. After drawing the outside post and starting from the 19 hole, he basically galloped around the track, finishing ninth. Whenever jockey Jose Santos looked for running room, he saw only walls of horses.

"If you've ever seen a horse held," Schulhofer said, referring to the occasional practice of jockeys' restraining horses, "that was the time. He never had a place to go."

After that forgettable experience, Schulhofer skipped the Preakness with Lemon Drop Kid and pointed him to the Belmont. Finally, Lemon Drop Kid was sharp, the track was dry, he drew a favorable post position, and he displayed the ability his trainer and owners knew he possessed.

After racing in mid-pack to the far turn, Lemon Drop Kid accelerated, blew past the early leaders, including the ill-fated Charismatic (who broke a leg and was retired), and then fought off Vision and Verse in a gallant stretch drive. Lemon Drop Kid's victory shocked nearly everyone, except his patient connections.

Now, with the injury to Charismatic and the recent retirement of Victory Gallop and injury to Real Quiet, Lemon Drop Kid is the only winner of a Triple Crown race in training. Still, he is 9-2, fourth choice, in the Saratoga morning line.

The bettors will be smarter than that as long as the track is dry. Lemon Drop Kid will probably be the second choice behind Menifee. Until wagering begins, Vance and Dance will anticipate tomorrow's weather with trepidation, but also with hope that good fortune has perhaps bloomed.

Yesterday, Schulhofer noticed that a heretofore descended testicle of Lemon Drop Kid had dropped, meaning that Lemon Drop Kid was no longer a ridgeling. A ridgeling, a horse with one descended testicle, is usually fertile. But some owners of top broodmares avoid them.

So when Schulhofer delivered the news to Vance and Dance, they hooped and hollered because without even running a single step, their colt had become a more valuable stallion prospect.

Even as the rain began falling harder, the couple beamed.

Pub Date: 8/27/99

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