Less than three months ago, jockey Jean Cruguet was on the receiving end of several sharp remarks from the Belmont backstretch.
"If there's a hole in a horse, Cruguet will find it," one trainer volunteers. Another, questioned about Seattle Slew's chances before the Kentucky Derby, replied, "I like the horse, but two minutes is a long time for the Frenchman to go without making a mistake.
When the stall doors on the starting gate opened at Churchill Downs, Seattle Slew was darn near left at the post.
Perhaps the rider reached a little too brashly, ot a little too quickly, during the first fuming of the Derby, but there was no denying Cruguet's courage in the long run through the Churchill stretch the first time around. The jockey quided Seattle Slew from last to first place by blending the colt's high speed with bull-dozing power.
The odds-on favorite went on to become America's 10th Triple Crown hero.
No one questioned Cruquet's ability or judgment in the weeks that folowed, Nor did the veteran rider resort to excuses when, finally, Seattle Slew was beaten for the first time in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. The little man suddenlyy stands very tall in the athletic world.
All of which is one way of alerting area racing fans to the fact that Cruguet will be aboard Lynn Davis today in the $58.800 Marylander Handicap. Bowie's closing-day feature Lynn Davis might well be favored over eight rivals, a role to which the 3-year old colt is not accustomed, having yet to win a stake in four tries and with but one victory to his credit in 11 starts.
"He ran very well for me in his last race," Cruguet said yesterday by telephone from the Belmont jockeys' room. "His second to Bailljumper in the Dwyer (Handicap) was excellent I don't know how much more you could ask of him.
"He's a nice horse to ride,," Cruguet continued. "He has speed. He can being forward to being at Bowie."
Lynn Davis, carrying 112 pounds has a big chance. His runner-up effort to Bailjumper in the Saranac, before the Dwyer, also was impressive. The time for the mile that day was 1:35 1-5 with Lynn Davis beaten by only 1 1/4 lengths. The margin in the Dwyer was half-length.
This is not to say Cruguet's mount has the Marylander at its mercy. Peuneplum, for one, finished ahead of Lynn Davis in the Ohio Derby last month, and Counter Punch whipped Pruneplum in the Annapolis Handicap June 4. Courtly Haste, in turn, holds a recent decision over Counter Punch in a prep for the Marylander.
Today's main event poses just that kind of handicapping horror. Anyone of the nine horses can win. Certainly, if Get The Axe can remember how he ran in the Kentucky Derby he could be making the last and most lethal run for the Marylander's $38,220 purse money. STThe team to beat, however, is Lynn Davis and Jean Cruguet. There are no Mailjumpers in this lineup and no one is seriously suggesting that a minute and 48 seconds is a long time for the Frenchman to go without making a critical mistake.