Plugged Nickel was honored Friday night as the champion sprinter of 1980, having narrowly beaten out Jaklin Klugman for the title. Today the two of them met on the track to determine whether the voters for the Eclipse Award had been right.
The voters were wrong. Both colts were soundly trounced by King's Fashion, a tough but unacclaimed 6-year-old, whose trainer, Allen Jerkens, has made a career of upsetting big-name horses.
King's Fashion pulled away in the stretch to win the $58,200 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship by 2 1/2 lengths over Jaklin Klugman, with Plugged Nickel fourth on the sloppy track.
Although he had won major stakes in New York and had scored a victory over this track two weeks ago, King's Fashion seemed a bit out of his element today. Jaklin Klugman, the 6-to-5 favorite owned by Jack Klugman, had been training well for his first race of a season in which he has a good chance to be the horse of the year. Plugged Nickel had been invincible at seven furlongs last season, though he had run dismally during a brief invasion of California earlier this month.
But King's Fashion had no difficulty handling his rivals' speed, the sloppy track or today's seven-furlong distance. He broke alertly and his jockey, Jean-Luc Samyn, let him race outside longshot Go With The Times for a quarter-mile. Then jockey Jacinto Vasquez drove Jaklin Klugman up inside the leaders, and for a moment the outcome of the Sprint Championship looked like a foregone conclusion.
But after they had battled for a few strides, passing the half-mile mark in a swift 44 4/5 seconds, King's Fashion shook off the favorite. At the six-furlong mark, just where Jaklin Klugman's superior stamina figured to show, King's Fashion opened a clear lead and drew steadily away, covering the seven furlongs in 1:22 3/5. He paid $6.60.
"I thought the fractions were too quick," said Jerkens, who has sent out horses to upset such vaunted champions as Secretariat and Kelso. "I thought someone would come from behind to catch him. But he is truly game. He puts everything he has into a race."
Vasquez had no apologies for Jaklin Klugman, who was making his first start since mid-October, but Cash Asmussen had to start making hoary excuses for Plugged Nickel. "I thought he had disliked the track in California," the rider said, "I thought today he didn't like the footing either."