Malibu Moonshine needed just about everything he had to run down 53-1 long shot Hello Jerry and win the $50,000 Private Terms Stakes yesterday, and the victory at Laurel Park had the colt's connections tentatively dreaming about a much bigger race that lies ahead.
By adding the Private Terms to his victory Feb. 5 in the Miracle Wood Stakes, Malibu Moonshine stamped himself as the top 3-year-old colt based in Maryland. During a festive celebration in the winner's circle, Michael Pons, business manager at Country Life Farm, reminded trainer King Leatherbury he had until 6 p.m. to pay a $6,000 late nomination fee to the Triple Crown.
"We wouldn't consider the [Kentucky] Derby, but we'll consider the Preakness," Leatherbury said.
Asked if he would put up the $6,000 to get Malibu Moonshine nominated, owner Woodrow Marriott, 91, the last surviving brother from the family that founded the Marriott hotel empire, laughed and said, "I haven't got that kind of money."
Malibu Moonshine will have to continue improving to compete with the top 3-year-olds in the country, but he has delivered a healthy return on his $33,000 purchase price. In nine starts, the late-running chestnut has won five times and earned $130,280.
The Private Terms, cut back this year from 1 1/16 miles to a one-turn mile because of the reconfiguration of the Laurel dirt course, drew a puzzling mix of sprinters and route horses, with only Malibu Moon, Legal Control and Monster Chaser having proven themselves in stakes company.
When the gate opened, 84-1 long shot Mr. Cliveden rushed out and opened a 2½-length lead. Hello Jerry stalked the pace on the outside, while jockey Steve Hamilton eased Malibu Moonshine along in 10th place.
Hello Jerry, who entered the race with only a maiden victory in four starts, took over after a slow six furlongs in 1 minute 13.34 seconds and looked to spring the upset. Hamilton swung Malibu Moonshine five wide on the turn and urged him to attack.
Malibu Moonshine drew abreast the leader, hesitated and finally went by to win by a neck in a time of 1:40.04.
"My horse is a waiter and you have to work to get it out of them," said Hamilton after the race, his face caked in mud. "He makes a big move up and he waits. He overcame a lot today. He is getting better all the time, and hopefully he'll keep progressing."
Monster Chaser rallied for third. Legal Control, the 2004 Maryland Juvenile Championship winner, placed seventh. Favored Flaminsun finished fifth.
After winning the Miracle Wood, Leatherbury took Malibu Moonshine on the road to try a stakes race in Kentucky, where he finished fourth. Encouraged, he came right back in the Private Terms.
"It was a better race than we thought after we analyzed it," said Leatherbury of the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. "He did run well. Those other horses were just faster."
Next up will be the $150,000 Federico Tesio Stakes on April 23 at Pimlico.
"Why go anywhere else when you have one right here?" Leatherbury said of his stepping stone to the Preakness.