Like a lawyer stating his case in a pressure-packed trial, Richter Scale presented a persuasive argument yesterday that he is the swiftest horse in the country.
The 6-year-old sprinter with the sore feet captured the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, blistering six furlongs in 1 minute, 7.95 seconds. That shattered the track record of 1 minute, 8 seconds, set in 1992 by Fighting Notion. It also bettered the times of past De Francis Dash winners Housebuster, Cherokee Run and Smoke Glacken.
Those horses won Eclipse awards as the nation's top sprinter. Richter Scale's sizzling performance in the De Francis Dash, one of the premier six-furlong races in the country, stamped him as a leading candidate for the coveted year-end award.
If jockey Richard Migliore, his rider the past four races, had a say on the jury, the vote would come quickly.
"He's the best pure sprinter I've ever been on in my life," said Migliore, who is based in New York. "My belief is that Richter Scale is the best older sprinter in the country."
Although the De Francis Dash is a Grade I race, meaning it's one of the country's toughest and most prestigious, Richter Scale had to beat only three horses to state his case. Seven were entered, but three were scratched (Clever Gem, Changing Otheguard and Holiday Music).
Of those three, only Clever Gem might have posed a threat. His trainer, Mary Eppler, stabled at Pimlico, said she pulled her speedy 4-year-old out of the race because the track surface was too hard.
It was certainly fast. Laurel's three six-furlong stakes yesterday - over three-quarters of a mile - produced phenomenal times.
Richter Scale set the mark by outrunning Just Call Me Carl early to claim the rail, withstanding intense pressure into and around the turn by Falkenburg and then stretching out strides down the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths.
Just Call Me Carl overtook Falkenburg in the final strides for second. Falkenburg held on for third, and Intidab finished fourth. Richter Scale paid $3.20 to win and headed a $9.20 exacta and $28.40 trifecta.
The $180,000 winner's share transformed Richter Scale into a millionaire. He entered the race with earnings of $959,958, winning 11 of 23 races and four of his last five.
The $60,000 runner-up's check went to Steve Newby, a Gaithersburg stockbroker and owner of Just Call Me Carl. He donates every penny of his horse's earnings to Project Excellence, a college scholarship program for African-American students.
Newby named the horse after Carl T. Rowan, the syndicated columnist who founded the program. When Newby met Rowan, he recalled that the journalist said, "Just call me Carl."
Richter Scale couldn't match that for human interest, but he provided his own compelling story of avoiding retirement and overcoming infirmity.
His owners nearly retired him last fall so he could begin a career at stud. But Nancy and Richard Kaster, who live in Wisconsin, and Nathan Fox, who owns Wafare Farm in Kentucky, listened to Richter Scale's trainer, Mary Jo Lohmeier.
"It was entirely her call," Richard Kaster said. "She said, 'He's doing better now than he's ever done since he's been with me.' "
Richter Scale had been with Lohmeier in Kentucky since late 1998. That's when the Kasters, who own three-quarters of the horse, transferred him to Lohmeier from Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Before that, the Kasters had placed the horse with trainer Pat Byrne. Lohmeier exercised horses for Byrne, and that's where the Kasters had met her.
"She's a perfectionist in a lot of ways," Kaster said. "She pays very close attention to detail. Whatever it takes with this horse, she gets him happy. I think she even calls in people to sing to him."
Kaster laughed, but Lohmeier said keeping Richter Scale happy is a tough assignment. He's suffered quarter cracks, or cracks in his hooves, throughout his career. His sore feet have caused stress and strain on other parts of his body.
Lohmeier has summoned a chiropractor and acupuncturist to treat Richter Scale. The day before the De Francis Dash, she placed an emergency call to blacksmith Mark Dewey.
Friday morning, Richter Scale had ripped off a shoe while jogging at Laurel. Dewey flew in from Kentucky yesterday morning and applied a new shoe. Then Richter Scale pranced out and won his first Grade I race and presented Lohmeier her first Grade I as well.
"I can't even describe how special this horse is to me," Lohmeier said, wiping tears from her eyes in the winner's circle. "A lot of times he does take a lot of work. But if you give him the attention he needs, he pays.
"It's so satisfying, just so satisfying. This horse just tries so hard. He's such a neat horse."