MATCH features 'unbelievable' finish


If you're around anything long enough, you'll see it all. Saturday was horse racing's day for the amazing and bizarre.

On the final day of MATCH (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships), the 35-race series that began in April, two horses with chances to clinch the title (and $150,000 in bonuses for their owner and trainer) encountered trouble in the starting gate.

At Delaware Park in the afternoon, Crab Grass, trained by Barclay Tagg at Laurel Park, needed to finish third or better in the $100,000 Sweet and Sassy Stakes to win the championship.

But when the starting gate opened, Crab Grass didn't budge. She had jerked her head to the side, where she became lodged behind a steel bar. She eventually trotted out but didn't complete the race.

That meant that Saturday night at Penn National, the New Jersey-based Loaded Gun could overtake Crab Grass in the point standings by winning the $75,000 Mario Beneito Memorial Handicap. But when the starting gate opened, Loaded Gun reared, giving the other horses a head start that was impossible to make up in a six-furlong sprint. He finished next to last.

So Crab Grass claimed the championship after all, earning bonuses of $50,000 for Tagg and $100,000 for the mare's New York owner, William Backer.

"Unbelievable," said Alan Foreman, the Baltimore lawyer who founded MATCH. "Your mouths just dropped open when you watched those races."

Crab Grass also won her division (fillies and mares 3-and-older sprint), earning an additional $15,000 for Tagg and $25,000 for Backer.

"It's like winning a million-dollar race," Tagg said of his $65,000 windfall. "It will turn an ordinary year into a pretty good year."

Loaded Gun finished second overall but won his division (3-and-up sprint). Proud Run captured her division (fillies and mares 3-and-up long on turf) by winning the $100,000 Mid Atlantic Distaff Handicap at Philadelphia Park. Richard J. Hendriks trains her at Fair Hill for Marylander Katharine W. Merryman.

Owned by White Rose Stable and trained by Gary Capuano, Search for Luv won his division (3-year-old sprint) despite finishing last in the $100,000 Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park. And the Delaware-based Smart Guy claimed his division (3-year-old long) despite also finishing last in the $100,000 Paterson Stakes at the Meadowlands.

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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