A month ago the much-acclaimed Cigar passed a fading Poor But Honest in the stretch of the Massachusetts Handicap.
But yesterday at Laurel Park, no one was getting by Poor But Honest as he strode through the rain and slop en route to a wire-to-wire victory in the $204,200 Baltimore Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap.
"Today, he was Cigar," said Dean Butler, the jockey who accompanied Poor But Honest from Monmouth Park and confidently rode him to a 1 1/2 -length victory over Bowie-based Mary's Buckaroo. The time of 1 minute, 49 seconds for 1 1/8 miles was quick, especially for a wet track. Poor But Honest was the only one of five starters equipped with mud caulks for the Grade III stakes.
The horse's job was also made quite a bit easier when about mid-afternoon track announcer Dave Rodman made a startling declaration over the public address system.
He informed the crowd that heavily favored Ameri Valay had been scratched.
Immediately, the buzz was that something must be wrong with the horse. But owner Nick Bassford said his 6-year-old runner is fine.
"I just envisioned a hard-run race," Bassford said. "There were two horses with speed [Poor But Honest and Siberian Summer, who was scratched] on the inside of us and I just thought it was too quick to run this horse back in two weeks, especially in the heat."
On June 17, Ameri Valay had raced at Laurel in the Walter Haight Handicap, winning by 4 1/4 lengths and turning in one of the highest speed figures of his career.
"This is a horse that's been good to us and we want to treat him like a good horse. That means giving him three to four weeks between races. Also, we were not Breeders' Cup eligible, which meant we were running for $100,000, not the $200,000 the other horses were competing for," Bassford said.
With the two other front-runners, Ameri Valay and Siberian Summer, out of the race, getting to the lead was a simple task for Poor But Honest. The bettors immediately picked up on it. Poor But Honest was listed at 8-1 odds on the morning line; he was sent off the 6-5 favorite.
Although the result was never in much doubt, Mary's Buckaroo did make a move to the leader at the top of the stretch, but could not catch him. In what amounted to a two-horse race, Mary's Buckaroo finished 6 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Rugged Bugger. The others were strung out behind him.
Yesterday's victory was by far the richest score not only for Butler, but also for Poor But Honest, who like recently retired Maryland champion Taking Risks, rose from the claiming ranks to become a graded stakes winner.
Poor But Honest ran for a $5,000 claiming tag as recently as last fall at The Meadowlands, but has steadily risen through the ranks.
"I just got lucky and didn't lose him along the way," said Juan Serey, his Chilean-born trainer who is among the leading horsemen in New Jersey. Serey, a former jockey, is light enough to gallop Poor But Honest himself in the mornings and learned his training lessons from such aces as Oscar Barrera.
Poor But Honest is owned by Vincent Scuderi, who claimed the horse at Belmont Park over a year ago for $17,500 through trainer John Parisella.
NOTE: Because of wet weather, today's turf races, including the Pearl Necklace Stakes, have been switched to the main track.