FLORENCE, KY. — FLORENCE, Ky. -- On a gray afternoon of exhilaration for Maryland trainer John J. Tammaro III, tragedy struck at Turfway Park.
As Concerto, the classy colt trained by Tammaro, stormed down the homestretch yesterday to win the Jim Beam Stakes, the horse next to him, the horse battling for the lead -- Inexcessivelygood -- shattered his right front ankle.
With a sixteenth of a mile left, Inexcessivelygood collapsed. His Hall of Fame jockey, Chris McCarron, tumbled head over heels. The horse struggled onto his feet and tried to run, causing jockeys on the four horses behind him to pull up their mounts. They didn't finish the race.
Concerto pulled off to win by 2 1/2 lengths, strengthening his bid for a berth in a Triple Crown race. Two colts trained by Nick Zito -- Jack Flash and Shammy Davis -- finished second and third. Shammy Davis probably would have finished second if he hadn't had to sidestep the downed horse.
Inexcessivelygood was euthanized on the track. He was trained by Bob Baffert, the popular trainer from California whose Cavonnier suffered a career-ending injury in last year's Belmont Stakes.
"This horse had so much heart," Baffert said of Inexcessivelygood, who was one of his two Kentucky Derby prospects. "You could see him digging in, trying to win. It cost him his life."
McCarron was taken to a nearby hospital. He suffered three broken ribs.
Tammaro, who lives in Howard County, was subdued. Although he had just won the biggest race of his life, he didn't celebrate in the face of what had transpired on the track in front of a record 20,237 fans.
"It's a terrible thing to see," Tammaro said. "My horse ran by him. But that horse dug in and tried to run with him. I guess he just overreached himself."
Tammaro's richest score before the Jim Beam, in which Concerto earned $360,000 of the $600,000 purse, was the Brown & Williamson Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November at Churchill Downs, also with Concerto. The purse for that race was $230,000.
"I feel great," Tammaro said. "I'm so high right now that I'm a little short on words.
George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, owns Concerto. He attended yesterday's race, only the second time he had seen the horse run. The first was Nov. 2 in the Laurel Futurity at Laurel Park, when Concerto lost by less than a length to Kentucky Derby co-favorite Captain Bodgit.
"This horse has been a pleasure to be around," Steinbrenner said. "He wasn't the best horse in the barn, but he has taken every step you can ask a horse to take. I hope it continues right through the first Saturday in May."
Steinbrenner's son, Hank, who manages the family horse operation, said he wasn't convinced that Concerto is a Derby horse.
"I'm a little concerned about that mile and a quarter," he said of the Derby distance. "But he's so tough it's unbelievable."
He said Concerto would return to Maryland for his next start: the $200,000 1 1/8 -mile Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on April 19.
"Then we may skip the Derby and go right to the Preakness," Hank Steinbrenner said. "I'm going to have to have a little time to think about it."
As the 6-5 favorite, Concerto paid $4.60 to win. The exacta with Jack Flash (5-1) returned $24, and the trifecta with Shammy Davis (16-1) paid $214.60. Jules (7-1) finished fourth, completing a $907.80 superfecta.
Concerto covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute, 48 1/5 seconds. Only one horse has run a faster Jim Beam; in 1991, Hansel won in 1: 46 3/5.
Yesterday, only Twin Spires (46-1) followed the first four across the wire. Funontherun (4-1), Mercer Mill (28-1), Hoxie (70-1) and Air Cool (61-1) were the horses that didn't finish. Inexcessivelygood was the third favorite at 9-2.
Jules, a promising 2-year-old coming back from injuries, blistered the dry track with the fastest quarter mile (21 4/5 seconds), half mile (44 3/5 seconds) and three-quarters mile (1: 08 4/5) in 16 runnings of the Jim Beam. Normally on or near the lead, Concerto settled into fifth place.
"If the pace was a little bit slower, I'd have been one or two," said Carlos Marquez Jr., Concerto's New Jersey-based jockey. "But I knew the fractions weren't legitimate.
"At the half-mile pole, I tried my horse; I 'smooched' to him a little, and he picked the bit right up. I knew they were going to be in trouble down the lane."
Accelerating into the far turn, Concerto passed horses one-by-one. Driving wide, he set his sights finally on Inexcessivelygood, who had taken the lead at the head of the stretch.
With the determined Inexcessivelygood churning inside, and the powerful Concerto driving wide, the two promising 3-year-olds matched strides. They seemed poised for a thrilling race to the wire.
But suddenly, the race ended.
NOTES: In the $110,000 six-furlong Queen Breeders' Cup on the Jim Beam undercard, the Tammaro-trained Secret Prospect broke poorly and finished seventh. She lunged at the start, broke last and never recovered.
In the $75,000 1 1/16-mile Rushaway Stakes, In C C's Honor, trained by Marylander Donald H. Barr, finished second after bolting into the lead. The horse that beat him, the Baffert-trained Anet, set a track record of 1: 40 3/5.
In New York, long shot Smokin Mel won the $200,000 1-mile Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. He paid $33.20 to win in his first start beyond six furlongs.
The late-closing Ordway finished second, and the highly regarded California 3-year-old Wild Wonder claimed third.
Pub Date: 3/30/97