Boniface hustling to get 'Oliver' fit for effort in Million


Whatever happened to Oliver's Twist?

The local 3-year-old who nearly stole this year's Preakness might resurface in the Maryland Million Classic.

But it's no sure thing.

Trainer Billy Boniface had hoped to start the colt in the Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day after the horse spent most of the summer recuperating from a disastrous race in the June 17 Ohio Derby. "Oliver" was nearly eased in that race and it's still undetermined what caused the poor performance.

Now a bruised foot has impeded the horse's latest comeback attempt, although Boniface said the son of Horatius is in training "and I'm doing everything I can to get him to the Million, since it doesn't look like it's going to be that tough a race."

Oliver's Twist is not the only horse who has yet to recover from an intense Preakness effort. The winner, Timber Country, never recovered and was retired in mid-summer. Such also-rans as Tejano Run, Talkin Man, Mecke and Our Gatsby are still on the shelf.

Thunder Gulch, whom Oliver's Twist beat by a neck for second money, is the iron horse of the group, winning the Belmont, Swaps and Travers stakes after his third-place Preakness finish.

Mystery Storm, the pacesetter who tired and finished eighth, recently won the Evangeline Mile at Louisiana Downs.

Boniface wants to get a prep into Oliver's Twist before the Oct. 14 Classic. "But if I can't, I just might have to work him between races," Boniface said.

Among the horses eligible for the Classic are old standby Ameri Valay, Pennsylvania Derby runner-up Royal Haven, Taking Risks Handicap winner Brilliant Patriot, Mary's Buckaroo, Say Capp, New Jersey allowance winner Key to Manhattan and Jest Punching.

Vance at casino hearing

Dave Vance, former president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and currently executive vice president and chief operating officer of racing for the DeBartolo Corp., will address the Tydings Commission in Cumberland tomorrow when the panel holds its third public hearing on the potential impact of casino gambling.

"We keep saying that casino gaming hurts racing when it operates in competition with our sport," said horsemen's attorney Alan Foreman. "So we thought it was time we brought in a track executive who has experienced casino competition first hand."

The DeBartolo Corp. operates two tracks that have suffered from a close casino presence -- Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., and Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Since three riverboats were introduced in nearby Shreveport in 1992, wagering on racing at Louisiana Downs has declined 50 percent and handle on the track's video poker machines has decreased 70 percent, Foreman said. Since then, the track has bought half interest in one of the boats, the Isle of Capri, which sponsors the track's Super Derby on Sept. 30.

Remington is also hurt by Indian-owned bingo halls in Oklahoma, and the tribes there are attempting to bring in more sophisticated casino gambling.

Steady Power buried

He might have been termed the world's richest lead pony.

The Pimlico division of Canadian trainer Roger Attfield's outfit was in a state of shock recently when Steady Power, the stable's 11-year-old lead pony, suddenly dropped dead from an allergic reaction to a medication shot.

The horse wasn't just any old lead pony.

He was a rare individual who made the transition in retirement from championship runner to stable mascot, all the while serving in the useful capacity as morning galloping partner to his flightier, and younger, stablemates.

During his racing days, Steady Power won seven stakes, was named Canada's champion older runner in 1989, was second to Hodges Bay in the $1 million Rothmanns International and earned $1,132,196 during his career.

But most of all, said Holly Robinson, Attfield's Maryland assistant, "He was loved by everyone in this barn."

Since it was too costly to ship the horse's remains to Canada for burial, Robinson's pal, Ann Merryman, provided interment at The Orebanks, her mother's farm in Baltimore County.

Gaudet's new jockey

Eddie Gaudet has a new first-string rider.

It's Alcibiades Cortez, a former champion jockey in Panama, who came from New England to ride in Maryland about six weeks ago.

"I watched him ride a couple of races and liked his aggressiveness. He's strong and hits good," Gaudet said, adding that he likes using Cortez on certain horses rather than the more conservative, quiet riding style of his other main rider, Mario Pino.

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