This has been (to put it mildly) an eventful year for Timely Writer.
In March he was the long-range favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.
In April he almost died.
By June he was a forgotten horse, ignored amidst all the excitement over another 3-year-old, Conquistador Cielo.
And now he is back. Timely Writer won a minor race at Saratoga so easily today (covering seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5) that his trainer was thinking that it may still not be too late to win the 3-year-old championship or even the horse-of-the-year title.
When Timely Writer was stricken with gastroenteritis this spring, it was the cruelest trick that fate had ever played on trainer Dominick Imprescia. "I've had a hundred horses get colic and get right back on their feet," he said. "But this one time, 10 days before the Derby . . . "
Imprescia's voice trailed off as he thought back to the day his Derby dreams had been shattered. The colt had become sick at Churchill Downs, and veterinarians feared that his intestines were blocked; he could have died from the problem. What they found when they operated was a simple inflammation, but it was enough to knock the colt out of the Derby and out of training for weeks.
At the time, of course, that seemed like the end of the world to Imprescia. But the day after the operation the surgeon told the trainer, "He's out of the woods," and Imprescia could look forward to getting in the fall the glory he had missed in the spring.
"He came back in the first part of June," Imprescia said, "and I wanted to bring him along slow -- let him do his own thing. The more he went, the better he got. He's much, much better than he was before he got sick. He's stronger and more mature."
Timely Writer returned to competition 10 days ago, and cruised to an easy victory in the mile-and-70 yard Yankee Handicap. Imprescia wanted to get one more route race in the colt before the big-money races at Belmont, but when he couldn't find one he settled for today's seven-furlong feature race here. Two horses who could have provided real competition for him were scratched, and Timely Writer was facing four nonentities, to whom he did just what he was supposed to do.
Jockey Jeffrey Fell let Timely Writer trail the field by half a dozen lengths on the backstretch; he was still last when he reached the turn. There he showed -- as he did winning major stakes in Florida this winter -- that he has the ability to accelerate rapidly and seize control of a race in an eighth of a mile. Racing in the middle of the track, he swooped past his four rivals to take the lead, and without any urging by Fell he drew away to a 2 3/4-length victory.
When he dismounted, Fell acknowledged what 20,075 people here could clearly see. "The colt is back," he said. "I asked him to run on the turn and he did it all on his own. He ran hard today."
Now as he contemplates the fall races, Imprescia knows he has an asset that nobody else does: a fresh horse. Derby winner Gato del Sol is hurt; Preakness winner Aloma's Ruler probably is worn out after a tough campaign; Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo is retired to stud with his strained ligament and his overblown reputation. Imprescia may soon find that the colt's illness -- which seemed so devastating at the time -- was a blessing in disguise.