`Matt' steps softly on Pimlico's grass

Yielding turf suits him in opening-day victory

`Slip' can't handle surface

Horse Racing

August 13, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Trainer Tim Hooper watched the two turf races at Pimlico Race Course and couldn't contain a smile.

The turf, so green and inviting on a humid, 95-degree opening day, was soft and soggy instead of firm. While that didn't bode well for some horses, including the respected Private Slip, an 11-year-old who had won more than a half-million dollars in his long career, it suited Hooper and his horse, Matt Blanc, a 4-year-old, perfectly.

"When I saw the track, I thought he would race well," said Hooper, whose horse ran in the seventh race of the afternoon and completed the 1 1/8 -mile distance in 1 minute, 59.42 seconds and paid $14.40, $7.60 and $5.. "He'd been off since July. There was enough speed for him and the track was dead. I thought he'd run well."

But Hooper, who is trying to determine his horse's niche, also had his eyes on a number of older horses in the field, and with good reason - Keats and Yeats, another 11-year-old, finished second to Matt Blanc.

"You don't look past them on the turf," Hooper said. "They're old, hard-working horses who have found their niche. And it is kind of neat to see those old horses still running and competing so well."

Yesterday, there were so many older horses extending their racing careers by running a limited season on the more forgiving grass courses that Pimlico officials had to split one turf race into two.

And that's how Hooper's horse wound up in the seventh race with Keats and Yeats, while Private Slip was in the fifth running against Hickory Hawk, Batafurai and City Island.

Private Slip took the longest way around, running on the outside of Batafurai while pushing for the lead until tiring coming down the stretch to finish fourth behind the younger Hickory Hawk, Batafurai and City Island.

Hickory Hawk, trained by Roy Peacock Jr., completed the course in 1:59.89 and paid $10.40, $3.20 and $3.00.

The winning times in both the fifth and seventh were more than 13 seconds off the track record of 1:46.34.

"The course was so yielding and slow, he [Private Slip] wasn't fit for it," said trainer Dale Capuano, who lost the horse in a claiming race in May only to have a client, Rob Roy Farm, buy the horse back for him.

"Roy did a good job training Hickory Hawk and those top three finishers are probably fitter. But with `tryers' like Private Slip, anything can happen and there will be another day.

"He loves to race, and he keeps surprising me. Every year I think this is his last year, but he keeps acting like he's a 2-year-old. The days when he was winning stakes races are beyond him now, but he is still able to compete at a decent level."

Despite the heat, racing yesterday was intense from the start. In the first race, Xcape, with Eric Camacho aboard, and Godsend, with Erick D. Rodriguez up, both completed the six furlongs in 1:13.41, a dead heat. Xcape paid $2.60, $2.60 and $2.80, while Godsend paid $2.60, $3.20 and $2.80.

Racing will continue today at 1:10 p.m. with an 11-race card featuring the $50,000 Humphrey S. Finney Stakes for 3-year old Maryland-bred colts and geldings.

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