Winter's Tale, a horse who could barely walk a few weeks ago, took advantage of Spectacular Bid's absence and ran away with the $300,000 Marlboro Cup today.
The 4-year old took the lead on the turn and scored a 4 1/2-length victory over Glorious Song, ruining her bid to become the first filly ever to win this race. He also spoiled another possible storybook ending by beating actor Jack Klugman's colt. Jaklin Klugman, who was another neck behind in third position.
Winter's Tale had extablished himself this summer as the best older horse in New York -- until Spectacular Bid showed up -- but his credentials were blackened at Saratoga this summer.
He was trounced by 14 lengths in the Whitney Stakes and came back to his barn with such sore shins that trainer Mack Miller virtually abandoned hope of running in the Marlboro. "He was so sore he could hardly walk," Miller said, "and we had to work on him 24 hours a day."
Even a few days ago Winter's Tale's status was iffy.
But there was nothing iffy about his performance today.
He came into this race with one enormous advantage: the outside post position on a track where horses have recently been unable to win along the rail.
"I love the post position," Miller said.
And jockey Jeffrey Fell used it to his best advantage.
When the two speedballs in the eight-horse field, Hold Your Tricks and Amber Pass, went out to battle for the early lead, Fell kept Winter's Tale just outside them in perfect position. Meanwhile, Jaklin Klugman and Glorious Song -- his principal rivals -- were trapped near the rail.
After the leaders had sped three-quarters of a mile in 1:09 2/5 and were ready to collapse, Fell gunned Winter's Tale outside them and took a clear lead. Meanwhile, Jaklin Klugman and Glorious Song were extricating themselvers from the inside, and swung into the middle of the track.
But it was too late for both of them. Winter's Tale was pulling away from them in the final yards. The winner paid $8.60 and $3.60. Glorious Song, the 8-to-5 favorite, returned $3 and $2.60, and Jaklin Klugman $3.20.
Winter's Tale covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 flat, a decent but hardly sensational time, considering that a group of allowance horses had run the same distance in 1:48 earlier on the program. The time suggested that Spectacular Bid would have had minimal difficulty routing these horses, even under 136 pounds.
But trainer Bud Delp balked at the assignment and thought it was an injustice that the world's leading money winning thoroughbreed would have to concede 13 pounds to Winter's Tale.
The outcome of the Marlboro also verified widespread suspicions about the quality of the current generation of 3-year-olds. Jaklin Klugman was the sharpest horse of his age in America and could do no better than third today. Temperence Hill, First Albert and Amber Pass, the one-two-three finishers in the Travers Stakes this summer, finished fifth, sixth and seventh today.
Miller said that Winter's Tale would run in the next two legs of New York's "fall championship series," the Woodward Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In these events he will m eet Spectacular Bid, with each of them carrying 126 pounds. Despite the ease of Winter's Tale's victory today, those two races do not hold much suspense.
Well Decorated, a son of Raja Baba bred in Florida, earned $240,885 to increase his career total to $295,705.
The winner, ridden by Laffit Pincay Jr., paid $14, $7 and $5.60, and was timed in 1:23 4-5 over a fast but dull track. All starters carried 122 pounds.