When a horse shows no ability, race-trackers will invariably dismiss him by saying, "He isn't worth a plugged nickel." But that insult may have to be amended now, because after today a comparison with a Plugged Nickle will be considered complimentary.
The colt by name swooped past seven rivals on the stretch turn at Pimlico and won the $188,550 Laurel Futurity by 1 3/4 lengths over Gold Stage. Although the performance hardy evoked memories of the last two winners of this race, Spectacular Bid and Affirmed, it did establish Plugged Nickle as one of the leaders of the current generation of 2-year-olds.
Before today, he had never won a stakes race, and trainer Tommy Kelly wasn't positive he even belonged in the Futurity. But, Kelly said, "The colt had always been a little runner and he was doing good, so I decided to take a little shot."
Plugged Nickle's regular rider, Jacinto Vasquez, was already committed to the favorite, Gold Stage, so Kelly gave the assignment to 47-year-old Buck Thornburg.The veteran decided to change tactics with Plugged Nickle, who had been showing speed in all of his races, and bring him from off the pace.
So while four horses raced to the first turn at Pimlico, vying for the lead, Thornburg restrained his mount, let him relax and dropped to the rail. As Gold Stage and the Canadian invader, New Regent, battled head and head, Plugged Nickle was sitting in the middle of the pack, seemingly going nowhere.
"The trainer wanted him on the outside, where he runs best," Thornburg said. So as he reached the end of the backstretch, the jockey swung the colt to the middle of the track and urged him forward. The two leaders had now been joined by Rex Imperator, and they were three abreast, but when Plugged Nickle got into gear, he zoomed post them all in half a dozen strides.
He covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43 4/5, not very fast considering that allowance horses had run the distance in 1:43 half an hour earlier.
Vasquez, the rider of Gold Stage, claimed foul against the winner, which was quickly disallowed by the stewards.
Plugged Nickle paid $11.20, $5.60, and $4. Gold Stage returned $3.80 and $2.80, and New Regent paid $3 to show. The exacta paid $41.40.
Plugged Nickle had shown early promise when he won a maiden race at Saratoga and finished second in an allowance at Belmont. Those performances prompted Kelly to enter him in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont, and for that race he took a jockey's advice and equipped the colt with blinkers. "He just got bewildered with them," Kelly said. After Plugged Nickle lost the Futurity and another race, Kelly removed the blinkers, and the colt devastated an allowance field by nine lengths in excellent time.
Since that victory, Kelly thought Plugged Nickle was doing even better. "He's a more settled colt now," the trainer said. "He's been at Pimlico three days, and I've never had a horse do better. Maybe it's the Maryland carrots.
"Still, he he's not a big rugged horse and I've run him a lot lately. We'll probably give him a rest now and then start getting ready for his 3-year-old season."