Golden Missile soared into the stratosphere of this country's top horses yesterday with an overpowering display of tactical speed and power in the $750,000 Pimlico Special at Pimlico Race Course.
On a steamy afternoon in Baltimore, the 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy defeated a stellar group of older horses considered perhaps the best assembled so far this year. And Golden Missile won with ease."He had fire in his eyes today," said his jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "I was just a passenger. ... I encouraged him at the eighth pole, and he just exploded."
As the bettors' 9-2 fourth choice, Golden Missile won the Grade I race by two lengths over the 35-1 long shot Pleasant Breeze. Lemon Drop Kid, the 4-1 second choice, finished third, a nose behind the runner-up.
Trained by New York-based Joe Orseno for Frank Stronach, Golden Missile had encountered a run of bad fortune in recent races. He had run well - seconds and thirds in major stakes - but each time another horse chose that day to run his career best."I knew this was coming," Orseno said. "I just didn't know when."
Golden Missile chose the proper day for running his best race. The Pimlico Special is one of the premier races for older horses. He had finished third in the Breeders' Cup Classic and second in the Donn Handicap.
His only previous win in a graded stakes occurred 14 months ago in the Grade III Widener Handicap at Hialeah Park.
That was his last race for trainer Pat Byrne. Last spring, Stronach transferred most of his fastest horses to Orseno. Stronach owns several racetracks, including Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, and has won the Eclipse Award the past two years as North America's outstanding owner.
Stronach did not attend yesterday's race, but Orseno said Golden Missile's next major goal will be the Whitney Handicap this summer at Saratoga."Hopefully, this will be his coming-out race," Stronach said.
Although the Pimlico Special was deep with talented horses -some of the best in the country - four ran poorly, but then their jockeys or trainers provided ready reasons.
Cat Thief, the bettors' 4-1 third choice, loosened a couple of teeth when he broke through the gate prematurely, said his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. Pat Day, his jockey, said the 4-year-old son of Storm Cat completed the race with a mouthful of blood. Cat Thief finished fifth.
Mike Smith, jockey of the 9-5 favorite K One King, blamed himself for a "bad ride." Although his instructions were to ease the horse back, he said, he urged him early because none of the other horses wanted the lead."It didn't work out,"Smith said.
K One King finished sixth, only the second time in his 11-race career he has finished worse than second.
Budroyale, who finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, finished seventh in the Special."He just didn't dig in," said his jockey, Alex Solis.
The runner-up, Pleasant Breeze, was the surprise. He overcame an unsteady ride early by jockey Jorge Chavez and a five-wide rally late to outrun the proven Lemon Drop Kid for second.
A 5-year-old son of Pleasant Tap, Pleasant Breeze sustained cuts inside his left hind leg during the race. Veterinarian Nicholas L. Meittinis said the cuts were superficial and did not require stitches.
Lemon Drop Kid, the winner of last year's Belmont and Travers stakes, charged from sixth around the far turn but then, at the head of the stretch, glanced to his right at the starting gate, said Edgar Prado, his jockey."That could have cost him a little momentum," said Prado, the Howard County resident and former Maryland riding star now based in New York.
The horse in no need of an excuse was the winner, Golden Missile.
After nearly breaking through the gate before it had snapped open, he raced in third, just outside Cat Thief and Budroyale. Entering the far turn, he accelerated, sweeping past Budroyle first and then Cat Thief.
With an eighth of a mile to the wire, he began drawing away for the authoritative victory.
For his trainer, Orseno, and jockey, Desormeaux, the triumph could be the start of a magical week. Orseno trains Red Bullet, the horse with the best chance of upsetting Fusaichi Pegasus on Saturday in the Preakness.
Desormeaux rides Fusaichi Pegasus, the Kentucky Derby winner, who will try in six days to capture the second leg of the Triple Crown."Hopefully, this is the prelude," Desormeaux said.