HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Storm Tower is not invincible.
The previously unbeaten colt, ridden by Laurel-based jockey Rick Wilson and trained by Bowie-based Ben Perkins Jr., lost his first race yesterday when 30-1 long shot Bull Inthe Heather charged from off the pace and beat him by two lengths in the $500,000 Florida Derby.
Storm Tower went to the lead easily at the top of the stretch after stalking pace-setter Great Navigator for the first mile. But he failed to kick in in his first trip at 1 1/8 miles and was passed by Bull Inthe Heather in mid-stretch.
Storm Tower hung on gamely for second to beat fast-closing Wallenda, who rallied four horses-wide from about 12 lengths off the pace.
But it was jockey Wigberto Ramos, a leading rider in South Florida but little-known nationally, who saved ground along the rail, then pushed the enormous son of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand through a hole that opened up at the top of the stretch.
Instead of following instructions from trainer Hower Tesher and rallying wide, Ramos stayed on the rail and ended up winning $300,000 for the colt's owner, Arthur Klein, an electrical contractor from New York.
The time for the 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track was 1 minute, 51 1/5 seconds, well off Gen. Duke's stakes record of 1:46 4/5.
The victory did little to clarify the ever-changing status of this year's Kentucky Derby contenders.
"I'd say the picture is still muddled," Perkins said. "The horses we were worried about sort of flattened out, and that leaves things pretty much wide-open for the Derby."
Silver of Silver, the second choice, and Living Vicariously, who went off as third pick at 4-1 odds, finished fifth and ninth, respectively.
Living Vicariously, who didn't want to load in the gate, disputed the early pace, but then gave up.
Perkins said he plans to run Storm Tower in the May 1 Kentucky Derby and will probably return the horse to the Bowie Training Center at the end of the week.
"I'd say we're still inclined not to give him a race before the [Kentucky] Derby," Perkins said.
Wilson said Storm Tower ducked out at the top of the stretch once he made the lead and "stopped running. He must have seen something," he said. "Then I thought he was pretty game to hang on the way he did."
Klein purchased Bull Inthe Heather as a yearling at the Saratoga, N.Y., sales for $130,000 from his breeders, Claiborne Farm and John Franks.
"I picked him out myself," Klein said. "We were leaving the grounds, and my girlfriend, Gale, saw a sign that said a colt from the first crop [of foals] from Ferdinand was being sold. We decided to take a look. The horse came out of his stall, strutted his stuff, and had a good shoulder and hindquarter, all the things my trainers said were desirable in a horse. Then the colt looked me in the eye and seemed to say, 'I can beat anything.'
"I was prepared to spend $70,000 for him, but had to go to $130,000."
Klein got into the business about five years ago at the behest of his late mother, Roslyn.
"She was a real fan," Klein said. "One day at the races I said, 'Mom, I've made some money. I'd like to give you a special gift. A trip around the world, something like that. What do you want?'
"She said, 'A racehorse.' So we claimed two horses for $25,000 a piece.
"Since then, I got hooked on the game, and she has passed away."
Previously, Klein's best runner was Bravely Bold, a sprinter that had won the Toboggan Handicap and Coaltown Breeders' Cup, but broke his leg in the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash and was destroyed.
Tesher said Bull Inthe Heather will definitely be pointed for the Kentucky Derby.
"But I won't know until about a week what route we'll take to get him there," he said.
Tesher, 57, has trained stakes winners such as Plankton, Darby Creek Road and Lieutenant's Lark.
Bull Inthe Heather had previously won only one race when he broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Dec. 14. But he had recently finished second in his first try on Lasix in a division of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which was won by Duc d'Sligovil, who finished seventh yesterday after mounting an early challenge.
In the paddock before the race, John Franks, who bred Bull Inthe Heather, said he was sorry he had sold him even though he was a long shot. Franks owns Kissin Kris, the better regarded of the two, which he also bred and ended up fourth.
Bull Inthe Heather is out of a half sister to the Grade I Franks-raced mare Heatherton, and stands more than 17 hands.
"This horse loves being a racehorse," Tesher said. "I think he is definitely on the improve. In his first race [last fall] he got left at the gate and was 25 lengths behind the last horse. He just started picking up horses and wound up fourth."
A crowd of 24,171 attended the Florida Derby. The amount bet on the race at the track, and at other outlets in the state was
$7,993,485, a Florida Derby record.