Timely Writer and Perrault came into the Marlboro Cup expected to give performances that would certify their credentials as candidates for the horse of the year title.
They left Belmont Park today with their reputations slightly tarnished and their futures very much in doubt.
Timely Writer, attempting to make a storybook comeback from an early season illness, finished 25 lengths behind the victorious Lemhi Gold. He would have been last except that Perrault, the highly regarded winner of last month's Budweiser Million, didn't even make it to the finish line, pulling up lame with a quarter of a mile to race.
The failure of these two horses was more notable that the 8 3/4-length victory of Lemhi Gold, sent off at odds of 7 to 1.
Ordinarily such a spectacular margin in such an important stakes would indicate that a horse had run brilliantly. But not today. Lemhi Gold didn't even have to run fast; his time of 2:01 was quite undistinguished.
But none of the supposed contenders in this $400,000 event kicked up his feet. In addition to the last two finishers, Silver Buck and Muttering also ran dismally, both losing by more than 18 lengths.
Silver Supreme rallied to finish second by default, with another longshot, Pair Of Deuces, third.
Lemhi Gold had come into the Marlboro Cup with a record that suggested he was strictly a grass specialist; he had not won on the dirt since the first race of his career. But trainer Laz Barrera thought differently.
"The reason we took a shot is that he had worked so well on the dirt," Barrera said. "He had run badly on dirt because he doesn't like getting hit in the face, but I thought if he could get good position he wouldn't get hit."
Jacinto Vasquez had Barrera's theory in mind from the outside of the Marlboro Cup. Pair Of Deuces, the only bona fide front runner in the field, broke alertly and took the lead, and Vasquez moved Lemhi Gold into striking position just outside him.
Pair Of Deuces was not setting a swift pace, but the only other horse in contention was Perrault. After the leader had gone a quarter-mile in 24 seconds, a half in :47 3/5 and three-quarters in a moderate 1:11 3/5, Lemhi Gold drew abreast of him and took the lead without much resistance. Pair Of Deuces was tiring, Perrault was starting to go backwards and nobody else was close. Lemhi Gold suddenly found himself five lengths in front as he entered the stretch.
Lemhi Gold, considered the lesser half of an entry with stablemate It's The One, paid $17, $8.20 and $5. Silver Supreme returned $11.80 and $5.40 and Pair Of Deuces paid $8.40 to show.
Lemhi Gold certainly has a productive autumn ahead of him; his ability to run on grass or dirt gives Barrera a lot of lucrative options. But what will happen to Perrault and Timely Writer is uncertain.
"At the mile pole, when Perrault was changing leads, he took a bad step," Laffit Pincay Jr. said. "I knew I was in trouble then." Pincay pulled up his mount a quarter mile before the finish line, and the horse walked off the track perceptively lame.
Trainer Dominic Imprescia and jockey Jeffrey Fell were mystified by the performance of Timely Writer, whom the crowd of 27,473 had made the 2-to-1 favorite. "He had no life at all in him," Fell said. "When I asked him to run, he didn't."
Runaway Groom, the Travers Stakes winner, and the entry of Winter's Tale and Fit To Fight were scratched.
Earlier in the Belmont program, Wings Of Jove led most of the way to beat Share The Fantasy by 3 1/2 lengths in the $127,700 Matron for 2-year-old fillies.
For Once'n My Life broke first, but Wings Of Jove, ridden by Herbert McCauley, quickly got the lead and kept it, completing the seven furlongs in 1:24.
Share The Fantasy and Weekend Surprise overtook For Once'n My Life in the stretch to take second and third. For Once'n My Life finished fourth.
The winner, owned by Helmore Farms, earned $76,620 and paid $12.20, $3.60 and $2.80.
Arlington Handicap: Overtaking even-money favorite Frost King at the mile pole, Dixiana's Flying Target galloped to a 4 1/2-length victory in the 50th running of the $119,400 Arlington Handicap at Arlington Park near Chicago.
Rossi Gold was second.