For Pat Day, his first winning trip in the Washington D.C. International yesterday was pure paradise.
Riding with extreme confidence and never picking up his stick, the Midwest jockey, who turned 41 two days ago, let Horse of the Year candidate Paradise Creek gallop along off the pace for the first mile in the 1 1/4 -mile grass classic at Laurel Park.
Then, in a seemingly effortless move in the stretch, the 5-year-old horse extended his stride and drew off to a 5 1/2 -length win over Redcall, the pace-setting Maryland-bred whose owner,
C. Oliver Goldsmith of Howard County, calls him "my little old country horse."
While Day simply sat astride Paradise Creek, Joe Bravo was furiously using the whip on Redcall. While it was a useless tactic against Day's overpowering mount, Bravo's hard work paid off when he nosed out English invader Beneficial for second place in a photo finish that took the placing judges several minutes to decipher.
By racing to his eighth victory in nine 1994 starts, Paradise Creek virtually clinched the national turf title. If he should win the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf in three weeks at Churchill Downs, he will mount a serious challenge to 3-year-old star Holy Bull for Horse of the Year honors.
It was Day's second major victory on a favorite in a Maryland signature stakes this year. In May, he guided Tabasco Cat to a popular win over Go For Gin in the Preakness.
Yesterday, Paradise Creek went off at 1-5 odds, lower in the exact tabulation than Stormy Blues' winning performance a week ago in the Selima Stakes, and paid $2.40, $2.20, $2.10. Although the horse's presence created a $23,540.75 minus show pool at Laurel, no huge show bets in the $100,000 range appeared to have been made. In the Selima, a Las Vegas bettor had wagered $100,000 to show on Stormy Blues, winning $5,000. But apparently the so-called bridge jumper was not in action yesterday.
After Paradise Creek's International performance, which was run stakes record time of 1 minute, 59 3/5 seconds, the horse's trainer, Bill Mott, said that Paradise Creek is approaching the form of his 1987 turf champion, Theatrical.
"In fact, it's an apt comparison," Mott said. "This horse is a three-quarter brother to Theatrical," but, he added, much easier to train than his more-temperamental relative.
Day said that after Paradise Creek broke well, "I settled in behind the leaders."
Redcall immediately went to the front, pressed by 86-1 shot Astudillo and the French closer, Marildo, who showed surprising speed. Except for Redcall, the other two front-runners tired badly and finished off the board.
"After I got to the lead, which he took me to easily," Day said, "I just waited for them to run at me. But they never did. Finally I let him go, and they never caught up."
After the Breeders' Cup, Mott said that Paradise Creek will go to Tokyo for the $3.5 million Japan Cup and then be retired to the Arrow Stud. The horse was purchased about eight months ago from Virginian Bert Firestone by 72-year-old Tokyo real estate tycoon Masayuki Nishiyama, who is Japan's second-largest breeder and owns about 150 mares, according to his American bloodstock adviser, Emmanuel De Seroux.
Paradise Creek is the only American runner Nishiyama has in training, De Seroux said.
Yesterday's International was not without incident.
After racing forwardly for the first six furlongs, English runner Zoman suddenly dropped back and after the wire pulled up lame.
The horse appears to have torn a suspensory ligament, and although the injury is not life-threatening, the 7-year-old horse will not run again. Zoman was put back into training this summer after failing to get a mare in foal at the National Stud in Newmarket. The horse, who won the International in 1992, was returned to training expressly to try to win the International again.
Paradise Creek's margin of victory was the largest in a dozen years, since April Run defeated Majesty's Turn by 6 1/2 lengths in 1982.
The appearance of Paradise Creek in the International is also the first by a legitimate grass champion and Horse of the Year contender since All Along's start in the $600,000 stakes in 1983.
Day previously had ridden in three Internationals, but his best performance before yesterday was a second in 1986 with Dance of Life.
Mott said that although Paradise Creek never has raced farther than 1 1/4 miles, he thinks the horse can handle the 1 1/2 -mile Breeders' Cup Turf.
"He relaxed with a long, light hold today and seemed to rate very well," Mott said. "If he does that at Churchill, then I think he'll be OK."
Although 17,624 fans showed up, about 1,000 fewer than a year ago, betting on yesterday's Laurel card was brisk. A total of $5.8 million was bet on the program, higher than the record-breaking $5 million wagered on the Maryland Million two weeks ago.
The Million surpassed the International with on-track handle, but the International and accompanying Laurel Dash surged past the Million with about $1.8 million in bets placed on the single stakes alone at national simulcast outlets.
"With all the criticism the race has received, it's good to see that we had such a great betting day," said track operator Joe De Francis. "I was especially pleased that a Maryland horse that we invited to the race finished second for a Maryland owner, Ollie Goldsmith, and earned $80,000."
Goldsmith said after the race that he was "very proud" of his home-bred, Redcall.
"I bred this horse's dam, his grand dam and his great grandsire, Red Monk," Goldsmith said. "All that is extremely gratifying, but it also makes me feel pretty darn old."