The validity of Johnny D.'s victory in the Washington, D.C. International two weeks ago was certified today in the $200,000 Turf Classic at Aqueduct.
The bay 3-year-old colt was 10 to 1 at Laurel, when the riders of Majestic Light and Exceller were accused of overlooking the early leader. Today's crowd of 25,324 apparently believed that criticism to be correct. They made Majestic Light 4 to 5 and Exceller 3 to 1 in the field of nine.
Johnny D., the 7-to-2 third choice, won by 3 3/4 lengths over Majestic Light, or nearly twice the margin he enjoyed at the end of the same mile-and-a-half distance in Maryland. Once again he received a flawless ride from 17-year-old Steve Cauthen.
Cauthen has proven his ability against the best riders in the United States. Today he faced Lester Piggott, England's finest reinsman, albelt briefly.
"I didn't expect Exceller (and Piggott) to be up there with us early like they were, but my horse was running easy and staying right there, so I was confident," Cauthen said later. The youngster and Johnny D. said goodbye to Exceller and Piggott after three-quarters of a mile. The last half of the 12-furlong race was strictly between Johnny D. and Majestic Light.
The Classic fractions posted over the soft turf were slow just as they had been in the International. But Randy Hawley and Majestic Light on Johnny D.'s flank today, ready to take up the challenge, once Exceller faltered.
"I was able to drop in on the rail and save ground, once Exceller dropped back," Cauthen said. "When Majestic light really came to us on the stretch turn, I let out a bit and let my horse run a bit more."
Johnny D. and Majestic Light were head-and-head into the final straight-away. Majestic Light may have thrust his nose in front, briefly, leaving the quarter-mile pole. But the favorite was no match for Johnny D. through the closing eighth. Johnny D. was a half-length in front, leaving the final big pole, and drew out smartly.
Crow, from France, and Vigors, a white colt from California, took third and fourth place, respectively, a neck apart.Crow was nearly a length behind Majestic Light. He was the only horse in the weight-for-age race to have even a minor excuse, having gotten out of the starting gate a little tardily.
Exceller faded to seventh position.
Johnny D. returned $9.20 straight after completing the route in 2:33 1/5. The time was a course record but not meaningful inasmuch as the Turf Classic was having its first running.
There will be considerable support now for Johnny D. as the turf division's Eclipse Award winner. Majestic Light, with a better overall record, will be his main rival for the title.
"I certainly think Johnny D. deserves it," Cauthen volunteered. Not too many horsemen or racing fans are about to argue with Stevie Wonder over anything these days. He's been right too often.
Riggot, predicatably, refused to say anything about the race to anyone.
The New York Racing Association offered two excellent attractions today. The first was the $79.275 Demoiselle Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, in which the odds-on Lakeville Miss was supposed to top off her outstanding campaign with another victory.
The crowd sent Lakesville Miss off at 4 to 5 but she, like Majestic Light a little later, made the chalk players cry. Caesar's Wish, a Maryland-bred filly, defeated the probable division champion by 6 3/4 lenghts, leading all the way under Danny Wright in 1:50 3/5 for the mile and an eighth.
Lakeville Miss rallied to within less than two lengths of Caesar's Wish at the top of the stretch, then fell back steadily during the run to the wire.
Caesar's Wish was the 8-to-5 second choice. The victory was her sixth in seven races. She had not beaten the leading members of her generation until today, however.