A little bit better known for his Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, the great linebacker Sam Huff yesterday showed horse racing runs neck and neck with football as his favorite sport.
Huff, who has bred race horses at his Middleburg farm the past 20 years, turned loose a fast one yesterday at Laurel Park. His Jet Set City chased leader Missile Bay through the slop for more than five furlongs, survived a bump while passing on the outside and won by a nose in the $50,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Inside the winner's circle after the race, Huff, 70, clamped his big hands down on the shoulders of jockey Steve Hamilton, a smile stretched across his face. Track handicapper Frank Carulli asked Huff a single question for the in-house television interview, and Huff, over the grind of a noisy passing tractor, began to gush.
"This is so exciting. This, to me, is like the Super Bowl," Huff said. "It was like playing the Colts in 1958, but we won this one. I'm just so happy everybody here saw a great race today."
Jet Set City, who won her debut March 12 for trainer Hamilton Smith, won the six-furlong Smart Halo in 1 minute 12.70 seconds. Missile Bay ran the first quarter-mile in a sizzling 22.76 seconds, paring away all the contenders but Jet Set City.
In the stretch, a tiring Missile Bay began to drift out, eventually bumping Jet Set City with less than a sixteenth of a mile to go.
"She kind of got the roughest of the trip," Hamilton said. "She got carried out a little bit at the eighth pole but she just gutted it out against the other filly. She ran a real nice race today."
Huff and Carol Holder, who joined him at the races, founded the West Virginia Breeders' Classic, which is entering its 19th year. The fall event, now offering $1 million in purse money, is modeled after the Maryland Million, created by former ABC sportscaster Jim McKay.
"I figured if Jim McKay can do it, I can do it," Huff said.
Racing Notes: The victory represented the first stakes winner for sire Unbridled Jet, who stands for a $4,000 stud fee at Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md.
"It was more than $4,000 when I bred to him," Huff joked. . . .
Pimlico-based Francis Campitelli, racing in south Florida this winter, showed he has a promising 3-year-old colt in Russian Bay, who won a maiden race on the Florida Derby undercard. . . .
Offlee Wild, who finished second behind Coast Line on Feb. 19 in the John B. Campbell Handicap at Laurel, turned the tables on his rival and took the 93rd running of the Grade III $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct. Trained by Richard Dutrow and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the lightly-raced 5-year-old Offlee Wild ran the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:50.41 over a sloppy course.
The final week of the Magna 5 paid $29,866.60 to 17 winners. In the 10 weeks the wager was offered, it drew an average national betting pool of $567,934.