Chalk one up for the little guys.
Small-time Bowie-based trainer Clifford "Buck" Gray Jr. beat some of the biggest names in racing yesterday when Gilded Set won the $100,000 Chrysanthemum Handicap at Laurel Race Course.
The castoff filly, who had broken down as a 2-year-old, but has won several stakes on grass, galloped over the quagmire of a turf course in 1 minute, 49 3/5 seconds, nearly 10 seconds slower than the track record.
Her jockey, Greg Hutton, stalked pacesetter Prebend, then took over entering the far turn and was never seriously threatened after he drew off in the stretch.
Prancing Ballerina, a daughter of Nijinsky II and a half-sister to 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck, finished second, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner. That filly is owned by John Werner Kluge, the Metromedia baron, and is trained at Belmont Park by Hall of Fame conditioner Scotty Schulhofer. Another New York visitor, Miss Otis, finished third.
Ratings, the 6-5 favorite, owned by Campbell Soup heir George Strawbridge, could not make up ground on the winner and finished a well-beaten fourth.
"She didn't like the soft turf," rider Jean Cruguet said about Ratings.
Some local trainers were surprised that track management kept the race on the grass after the sluggish time recorded Saturday in the Laurel Turf Cup. Five horses, including two trained by Barclay Tagg and one each from the barns of Charlie Hadry, Katy Voss and Joe Devereux, were scratched, leaving a nine-horse field.
Gilded Set was sold as a 2-year-old by her breeder, Marcy Buffum, to Gilbert Hahn's Meeting House Farm.
The filly fractured an ankle, and Hahn sold her reportedly for $1 to Gray and some of his friends.
Gray said yesterday that he isn't "quoting any prices. At the time, it was 50-50 if she'd ever race again. If she didn't make it back," Gray said, "she still had enough pedigree to breed."
Gilded Set is out of a daughter of the "blue hen" producer, Miss Buffum, who produced five stakes horses -- Castelets, Fed Funds, Ballet Bluff, Loose and Poppy's Pony -- who collectively earned more than $1 million.
But not only did Gilded Set get back to the races -- she was beaten for an $8,500 claiming tag in her first race in her return -- she has won four stakes, all on the turf, and earned $232,808.
Gray said Gilded Set trains so hard -- "every time she goes to the track she has her head bowed against her chest" -- that he will give her the winter off.
Gray described the filly as "hyper and tense, but she seems to be maturing. I knew that if I could ever get her to settle down, she'd be a nice horse."
Gilded Set is the first stakes winner that the 52-year-old horseman, who has seven runners stabled at the Bowie Training Center, has trained.
What a great story, someone remarked.
"Well, what a great horse," Gray said. He added that so far the filly's mended ankle has given her no trouble.
NOTES: Brilliant Brass, beaten by Stem The Tide at Laurel on Oct. 12 in the Queen Isabella Handicap, turned the tables on her Friday night. Brilliant Brass, a Marine Brass mare trained by Carlos Garcia, won her seventh 1992 stakes, beating Stem The Tide by 3 1/2 lengths in the Long Look Handicap at The Meadowlands. . . . Gray said three Kentucky bloodstock agents have inquired about buying Gilded Set, but so far their offers have been rejected. . . . Trainer Buddy Raines said Timely Warning will make his next start in the Brooklyn Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 21. Raines then takes his string to Aiken, S.C., for the winter. Timely Warning won the Grade I New York race last year. . . . Valley Crossing, scratched from the Laurel Turf Cup on Saturday, is expected to start this weekend in the $75,000 Paterson Handicap at The Meadowlands.