Romano Gucci is back.
"After his last race, we didn't know how he was going to run," said Kushner. "This puts him back on the map."
And into the Grade II, $200,000 General George Stakes here Feb. 17, where he may face many of the same rivals.
"Today, he looked impressive," said trainer Dick Dutrow, who brought Romano Gucci here from New York. "I think he's going to be the horse to beat in the General George. His next race should be the best so far."
Kushner said Romano Gucci's connections were mystified after a disappointing ninth in the Graves Handicap at Aqueduct the day after Christmas.
He bobbled at the start and was bumped at the eighth pole in his first race after finishing third to Unbridled's Song in the 1996 Wood Memorial.
"We were excited because he really had been training well," said Kushner. "We couldn't figure out what happened. The way he went today is the way he runs."
With Edgar Prado aboard for the first time, Romano Gucci stalked the speedy Ardent Arab, who had the rail, through some brisk early fractions.
"I was just cruising along," said Prado. "I wasn't going to use him up just to keep up with him [Ardent Arab]. Normally, that horse is two lengths in front. But he wasn't today."
Two-thirds of the way through the six furlongs, Romano Gucci was asked and he responded well to pull off for a 4 1/2 -length score in 1 minute, 10 2/5 seconds, respectable time over an honest track.
Ardent Arab held on for second by a half-length over Game Quoit, with Flying Punch another nose behind.
Dutrow said he was pointing Romano Gucci toward a small field in the Withers Mile last spring when the horse suddenly developed a fever.
"It was about 104 [degrees] the morning of the race," said the trainer. "We fooled around with him afterward, trying to get him back to running, but every day he had a fever. So we decided to give him the whole summer off."
Kushner said Prado would be the team's "first choice" to ride Romano Gucci back in the General George "if he doesn't have another commitment."
"That's our next spot," said Dutrow. "We hoped we'd be celebrating after this race, and we are. This was a steppingstone."
Triple Crown nominations
A total of 375 3-year-olds have been nominated to the 1997 Triple Crown series, including 19 bred in Maryland.
Heading the list are D. Wayne Lukas-trained Boston Harbor, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, and Storm Song, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She is one of seven females nominated.
Lukas tops the trainers list with 23 horses, followed by Richard Mandella (13), Nick Zito (12) and Bob Baffert (10).
The Maryland-bred entries are Bullet Valay, Construction, Dr. Best, Ferrocaril, Hot Porridge, In C C's Honor, Joliet Jake, Kearsarge, Partner's Hero, Pioneer Spirit, Prince Guistino, Shamrock Lad, Smiling n' Singing, Smoke Glacken, Stormy Cloud, Testafly, The Toy Man, Tres Shiek and War Broth.
Da Hoss, the Breeders' Cup Mile winner, will not run in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Saturday. Trainer Michael Dickinson removed him from consideration after being dissatisfied with his latest workout. The highlight of the Maryland Standardbred stakes program will be Oct. 18 at Rosecroft Raceway, when all eight divisions have championship events on Maryland Showcase Of Champions Night. Purses are expected to be more than $400,000. A mini-showcase, with $200,000 at stake, is slated for July 5.
Pub Date: 2/02/97