Entering today's $861,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, Vanlandingham had lost to Gate Dancer, who had lost to Greinton, who had lost to Vanlandingham, who twice had lost to Track Barron, who was resting up for next month's Breeders' Cup.
The already clouded horse-of-the-year picture became more muddled today, as Vanlandingham defeated six rivals in winning this state's richest thoroughbred horse race by 2 1/2 lengths over Gate Dancer.
In the $126,600 Fall Highweight Handicap one race earlier, jockey Jerry Bailey was hospitalized with fractured ribs and possible internal injuries after he and jockey Robbie Davis were involved in a spill. First Guess, which was injured in the spill, was destroyed.
With five-sixteenths of a mile remaining in the six-furlong race, First Guess, ridden by Davis, rallied to take third place behind Champion Pilot and Mt. Livermore. Bailey had Charging Falls snugly to the right of First Guess, a neck behind.
In tight quarters coming out of the turn, First Guess shattered his right foreleg, throwing Davis and undercutting Charging Falls. Bailey was thrown over Charging Falls' right shoulder and was trampled by Pancho Villa.
Bailey remained conscious and was taken to Long Island Jewish Hospital. He complained of lower back pain but was able to move his extremities. Davis was examined by a track physician and released.
A hospital spokeswoman confirmed this evening that Bailey, 28, had been moved to the intensive care unit. "His situation isn't life-threatening, but he is seriously ill," she said. "They're trying to determine whether the fractured ribs might have punctured an organ."
First Guess, a 3-year-old Mr. Prospector colt, had won four of seven career starts and $52,854. Charging Falls was unhurt. Mt. Livermore, carrying 140 pounds, earned the $75,960 first prize.
In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Vanlandingham benefited from Track Barron's absence, leading the entire 1 1/2-mile distance.
Vanlandingham had failed to win his last three races primarily because Track Barron had pressed him for the lead each time. Speed horses are much more effective with a comfortable lead, and today, Vanlandingham did not have to contend with Track Barron's talents. Jockey Pat Day controlled the race.
Vanlandingham ($8.40) broke first from the No. 1 post position, but Day quickly moved him from the rail, which has been extremely deep and disadvantageous. Angel Cordero Jr. had Bounding Basque (16 to 1) a length behind on the outside, followed closely by Creme Fraiche (part of the favored Woody Stephens entry at 7 to 5) and Greinton (2 to 1), but he allowed Vanlandingham to set leisurely fractions of :24 1/5 and :49 2/5.
When Bounding Basque pulled within a length after a half-mile, Day urged Vanlandingham and immediately increased his lead. When Greinton reduced the margin to three-quarters of a length approaching the second turn, Vanlandingham pulled away again, and the discouraged Greinton fell back.
But midway through the turn, matters became serious. Chris McCarron had Gate Dancer (9 to 2) charging past Greinton and Creme Fraiche on the outside, and he was gaining fast on Vanlandingham. Clad in his familiar purple hood and earmuffs, Gate Dancer was a half-length shy of the leader as they turned for home, and his stretch-running style made him a threat.
But the relatively easy trip left Vanlandingham with plenty in reserve. He maintained his short lead nearing the eighth pole, where Day whipped him for the first time. Vanlandingham gradually began to pull away.
Although the track was muddy, Vanlandingham finished in 2:27, the second-fastest Gold Cup since its distance was changed to 1 1/2 miles in 1976.
This was the second major victory for Vanlandingham (he won the Suburban Handicap), who has won eight of 13 career races. His lone out-of-the-money finish came in the 1984 Kentucky Derby, when he injured a leg and was out of action for a year.
Vanlandingham's victory gives the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic at Aqueduct added importance. The winner will earn Eclipse Award votes, in addition to a $1.8 million payoff.