Travers victory proves very sweet for `Lemon'

Win establishes colt as one of nation's best

August 29, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The scene was a blur: Lemon Drop Kid prancing into the packed winner's circle, state troopers whisking his owners through the boisterous crowd, the questions, the emotions, the reaction.

"To think that we'd be sitting here after having won the Travers, it's unbelievable," said Laddie Dance, the exuberant Marylander.

"We're elated right now," said his wife Jinny Vance, who retained her maiden name. "It will sink in maybe by the end of the week, maybe next week. It's such a monumental thing to have happen to you."

On a gloriously sunny afternoon yesterday at Saratoga, in front of the largest crowd in the 130-year history of the $1 million Travers Stakes, Lemon Drop Kid ran the perfect race and stamped himself as perhaps the best 3-year-old thoroughbred in America.

Owned by Vance and Dance, who live part of the year at their Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks, Lemon Drop Kid repeated his winning performance in the Belmont, when he denied Charismatic the Triple Crown. He also out-battled the same horse down the stretch, Vision and Verse, in another stirring drive that elicited roars from the 51,371 patrons.

This was the second straight year a horse owned by Marylanders won the 1 1/4-mile Travers, one of the country's premier races. Coronado's Quest, owned by Stuart S. Janney III of Butler, captured last year's Travers by a nose over Victory Gallop.

Yesterday Victory Gallop, recently retired with a leg injury, paraded down the Saratoga homestretch to polite applause. By then the racing surface had dried from two days of rain and provided Lemon Drop Kid a speedy track for his powerful stride.

All week his owners and Scotty Schulhofer, his usually reserved trainer, exuded confidence as Lemon Drop Kid exhibited telltale signs of a horse ready to explode on the racetrack. He tried to bite anyone who drew near. He bowed his neck and flexed his muscles.

"The way he came into this race I would have been extremely disappointed had he not run a spectacular race," said Vance, who named Lemon Drop Kid after a champion fine-harness horse (a show horse that pulls a buggy) she recalled from her childhood.

As the bettors' second choice at 7-2, Lemon Drop Kid and his jockey Jose Santos settled into third behind Cat Thief and Vision and Verse. Menifee, the 8-5 favorite, found himself trapped along the rail after breaking from post No. 1 and well back in seventh place.

Around the far turn Vision and Verse edged past the fading Cat Thief, and Lemon Drop Kid swept wide for his charge to the wire. He and Vision and Verse straightened for home side by side, Vision and Verse with the jockey Shane Sellers on the rail, Lemon Drop Kid with Santos just to their outside.

With both jockeys whipping and riding furiously, Lemon Drop Kid gradually surged ahead and crossed under the wire three quarters of a length in front. His time of 2 minutes, 2.19 seconds was respectable, especially after the leaders cut a slow early pace.

Menifee finally found running room and finished third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Vision and Verse. Ecton Park, Best of Luck, Badger Gold, Cat Thief and Unbridled Jet completed the order of finish.

"The pace and trip hurt me significantly," said Pat Day, Menifee's jockey. "We got shuffled back and locked in behind a trotting-horse pace. It's hard to make up ground when good horses walk along in front like that."

Lemon Drop Kid paid $9.30 to win. The exacta with the 14-1 Vision and Verse returned $96, the trifecta with Menifee third $289.

Afterward, a beaming Laddie Dance said: "All our faith in Lemon Drop has just been vindicated."

Schulhofer said the colt would race in one or both of Belmont Park's fall races for older horses, the Woodward on Sept. 18 and Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 10 -- and then the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Gulfstream Park.

Said Santos, the winning rider: "He won the Belmont, beat Charismatic, and now he's won the Travers. Maybe now he'll get the respect he deserves."

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