Reluctant Wrangler comes first at Laurel

Rally by N.Y. invader leaves General George field 2 3/4 lengths behind

Horse Racing

February 19, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The powerful Stronach Stables Inc. decided not to send Wrangler to Florida with trainer Joe Orseno for the winter because the colt's quirky habits wouldn't sit well in the tight confines of Gulfstream Park.

Instead, Wrangler stayed in New York in the care of James Jerkens, who has guided him to three straight victories since Thanksgiving, including a come-from-behind score in yesterday's Grade II, $200,000 General George Handicap at Laurel Park.

Despite some unruly pre-race behavior, Wrangler was all business once the gate opened and overtook local speedster Rusty Spur after the field straightened for the wire, pulling away to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

The third choice in the betting, Wrangler covered the seven furlongs in 1 minute, 22 2/5 seconds over a fast surface.

Rusty Spur, a 27-to-1 shot, fought off 8-year-old second choice Affirmed Success by a head for the place to complete a $146.20 exacta payoff.

"We have to blow him out the wrong way [clockwise] when he works and usually wait until late in the morning so there's no chance of a head on," Jerkens said.

"He's usually good in the post parade, but sometimes he won't go anywhere for some reason."

That was the case yesterday. Wrangler loitered in front of the grandstand while the remainder of the eight-horse lineup headed toward the chute where 7-furlong races are started.

An outrider finally put him to the whip to start the colt moving into position around the first turn.

"He has a mind of his own. He showed it in the post parade, wanting to stand around and look. But once he gets in the gate, he's quiet," said winning jockey Aaron Gryder. "I wanted to have him as close as possible for the start."

Wrangler is usually not shipped to an unfamiliar track until race day.

Once the race got under way, Wrangler received a picture-perfect trip under Gryder, who worked his way between horses on the turn and collared Rusty Spur on the outside.

One of Maryland's quickest horses, Rusty Spur won the early speed duel with favored Here's Zealous, who faded to last under Edgar Prado, going in 22 2/5 and 44 3/5.

Affirmed Success, winner of the 2000 General George, loomed in third the entire race, but could not muster a victorious rally.

"He started drifting," explained jockey Richard Migliore of Affirmed Success. "I didn't think we were going to hit the board, but he hung in there and gutted it out. The winner had a dream trip, and my hat is off to him."

"I was able to put him [Wrangler] wherever I wanted," said Gryder. "I was just hoping he would continue on the way he was traveling. He's been continuously getting better since Saratoga. If anybody ever figures him totally out [behavior], maybe they won't know what to do."

Wrangler, a 4-year-old, has reached the winner's circle in six of his past eight starts and is 7-for-14 lifetime. His earnings reached $323,890 with the $120,000 top share yesterday.

"He proved himself today," said Jerkens. "He came to use with a little bit of a reputation for misbehaving, but it's turned out OK."

NOTES: Venerable trainer King Leatherbury saddled winner No. 5,942 Sunday with Plug in the third race. He ranks third all-time behind Dale Baird and Jack Van Berg. ... Free admission was given to bettors Sunday after Saturday's computer glitch, which forced the final race to be run for purse only. Wagers were refunded and mutuel supervisors circulated in the crowd to handle inquiries. ... Laurel is dark today and open only for simulcasting tomorrow.

Gulfstream Park: Bold World took the lead in the far turn and ran away from the field to win the $71,000 Dame Mysterieuse Stakes for 3-year-old fillies in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Ridden by Jorge Chavez, Bold World ran five furlongs in 57 seconds, winning by nine lengths. She paid $11.80, $5.80 and $5.80.

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