Though caught in gate on track, Crab Grass not headed in MATCH; Loss by 'Gun' clinches title; Ecton Park beats Menifee by 2 lengths in Super Derby


Crab Grass, a 5-year-old mare trained by Marylander Barclay Tagg, had only to finish first, second or third yesterday to win the third annual MATCH series (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships).

But when the gate opened for the $100,000 Sweet and Sassy Stakes at Delaware Park in Stanton, Crab Grass was nowhere to be found. She did not leave the starting gate. Finally, after several seconds, with the rest of the field out of range, she loped out as if going for a Sunday stroll.

"In 30 years of training horses," Tagg said, "I've never had that happen to me."

Replays showed that Crab Grass, just before the starter sprang the gate, turned her head to the right. It became lodged behind a steel bar. She tried to break but couldn't.

Escaping, at 19-1, went on to win the Sweet and Sassy, edging Little Sister and third-place finisher Stacey Tracey. For Tagg and Crab Grass' New York owner, William Backer, that meant they had to wait until last night to find out whether their mare held on to her MATCH lead and earned bonuses of $100,000 for Backer and $50,000 for Tagg.

The New Jersey-based Loaded Gun could have overtaken Crab Grass with a victory in the $75,000 Mario Beneito Memorial Handicap last night at Penn National, but the sprinter owned and trained by Janis L. Gerace finished out of the money.

Loaded Gun ended up second behind Crab Grass in the MATCH standings. Points were earned during the 35-race, six-month series, which ended yesterday with five races at four mid-Atlantic tracks.

The Gary Capuano-trained Search for Luv, the only other horse with a chance of winning the title on the final day, finished last in the $100,000 Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park.

Louisiana Downs: Ecton Park, winner of the Jim Dandy at Saratoga in August, beat Menifee, the runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, by two lengths yesterday to win the $500,000 Super Derby in Bossier City, La.

Ridden by Alex Solis and carrying 126 pounds, Ecton Park covered 1 1/4 miles in 2: 00.4, 1/10 of a second off the track record, and returned $8.80, $3.20 and $2.40.

Ecton Park won $300,000, increasing his career totals to $852,635.

Menifee, who finished two lengths ahead of Pineaff in the field of eight 3-year-olds, paid $2.40 and $2.10.

Santa Anita Park: Spanish Fern went four wide into the stretch and took the lead midway to the wire to win the $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Caffe Latte in Arcadia, Calif.

Ridden for the first time by Chris McCarron, Spanish Fern covered 1 1/4 miles on the turf in 1: 59 2/5 and paid $7.40, $4.20 and $3.80 as the second wagering choice.

Fiji, the favorite, finished sixth out of seven horses.

Belmont Park: Khumba Mela, an Irish-bred, won the $112,900, Grade III Noble Damsel Handicap by five lengths over Uanme in Elmont, N.Y., covering a mile in 1: 34.2 on a firm turf course.

Cyrillic, ridden by Marylander Edgar Prado, was third in the field of eight fillies and mares 3 years old and up.

Philadelphia Park: Long shot Skipping Around won the $200,000 Cotillion Handicap in Bensalem, Pa., covering 1 1/16 miles in 1: 43.4.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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