Maryland racing fans finally might have a local horse worth rooting for in this year's Triple Crown.
Trainer Carlos Garcia unveiled a new and improved He's Got Gall in the Herat Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park, giving jockey Mark Johnston his fourth win on the card and hopes of more lucrative days to come this spring.
The handsome 3-year-old colt, equipped with blinkers for the first time and appearing much more focused than in his last race when he was beaten in the Dancing Count Stakes six weeks ago, responded with a 1 1/4 -length victory over the 6-1 fourth choice, Smart Car.
The competition was only moderate -- all the entries were eligible for a 7-pound weight allowance and the weights at 113 pounds were so light that all except one of the jockeys carried 1 pound overweight.
Nevertheless, He's Got Gall, sent off the even-money favorite, broke sharply, raced on the outside of early pacesetter Country Sights and finished full of run. He ran the final furlong in a shade under 12 seconds and finished the 1 1/8 miles in a respectable 1 minute, 50 3/5 seconds.
The Laurel-based horse put an end to the three-stakes win streak compiled by New Jersey trainer Ned Allard, who has invaded Maryland from Garden State Park this winter and had swept all the 3-year-old male stakes with Onto Luck and Dakota's Trick.
Allard finished third yesterday with Country Sights.
Garcia said he "really pushed" He's Got Gall to start in yesterday's race. "He missed two weeks of training because of a bruised foot so we had to rush him to get him here. The blinkers helped and he ran well despite the time off. He's better than what he showed today and I'm happy with this race. He's an improving colt."
Garcia mapped out a tentative schedule for the colt, naming the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel on April 1 as the horse's next start, followed by the Grade III Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico later that month. "Then, way in the back of mind, could be the Preakness," Garcia said.
He's Got Gall is a brother to former Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Brilliant Brass, who won nine stakes and earned more than $767,000. Brilliant Brass was also trained by Garcia and was ridden on occasion by Johnston.
"But both horses are completely different," Johnston said. "She [Brilliant Brass] was smaller in size and didn't have this horse's stride, although she had a ton of heart."
Owner Hermen Greenberg purchased He's Got Gall as a yearling for $39,500 at the first Horsemen's Bloodstock Yearling Sale, held in the Sports Palace at Laurel two years ago.
"I came to the sale to sell a yearling and had no intention whatsoever to buy one," Greenberg said. "But my farm manager, Bob Powell, saw this colt and urged me to buy him. So I did."
He's Got Gall topped the sale.
"People have told me I must be crazy to have nominated this colt to the Triple Crown. But we'll see how far we get," Greenberg said.
It won't be Greenberg's first brush with the Triple Crown.
Two years ago, Greenberg, who maintains a small, but select band of eight broodmares at his Rutledge Farm in Middleburg, Va., sold Colonial Affair as a yearling at the Saratoga sales for $100,000. The horse later won the 1993 Belmont Stakes for Centennial Farm.
Greenberg still owns Colonial Affair's dam, Snuggle, as well as other mares sired by Alydar, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.
NOTES: Sham Francisco, the Temperence Hill colt who finished last in the Horatius Stakes at Laurel on Feb. 12, won the Cherry Hill Mile by a nose over Onto Luck at Garden State Park on Friday night. The horse paid $66.20. Despite the defeat, Allard, trainer of Onto Luck, said he still plans to run his horse in the Gotham Mile at Aqueduct in a few weeks. . . . Marine Brass, sire of He's Got Gall, also produced two other winners on yesterday's Laurel card. The 16-year-old stallion stands at Murmur Farm in Darlington.