The $50,000 Goss L. Stryker Stakes at Laurel ended surprisingly yesterday, long shot Devilish Zeus beating 3-to-5 favorite Fappavalley by a neck. But the early stages of the race were just as shocking as the finish.
The five-horse field featured one true speed horse, Gospel Note, a gelding. But he broke slowly, and jockey Mike Hunter chose not to rush him. The decision profoundly affected the one-mile race.
As the 3-year-olds hit the backstretch, it was clear they were going very slowly. In taking a slight lead over Devilish Zeus, Winter Drive went the first quarter-mile in 26 1/5 seconds and a half-mile in :50 2/5. Four races earlier, $8,500 claimers recorded fractions of :23 4/5 and :47 3/5.
"Down the backside, you should have seen my face," said Allen Stacy, who rode Devilish Zeus. "I had a grin about a mile long. When they let us go that slow, we couldn't help but win."
As Stacy kept pressure on Winter Drive and jockey Kent Desormeaux through the backstretch, Fappavalley and Gospel Note were about three lengths off the leaders. "I knew it was a slow pace," said Fappavalley's jockey, Jimmy Edwards, "but my instructions were to lay off the pace."
In his previous start, Fappavalley had come on to win the Star De Naskra Stakes, but the pace in that race was much swifter, thus more advantageous to a stretch runner.
By the top of the stretch, Stacy advanced Devilish Zeus past Winter Drive, and Edwards had Fappavalley moving on the outside. But with Devilish Zeus untaxed on his way to the lead, Fappavalley had little chance to overtake him. After noting that the leader went six furlongs in a mere 1:15 3/5, announcer Robin Burns said, "Here's where the real running begins."
Fappavalley began slashing into Devilish Zeus' lead -- he traveled the final quarter-mile in :24 1/5 -- but came up short. Devilish Zeus held off the charge in 1:40, paying $52 to his supporters and giving trainer Katy Voss her second stakes victory in two days.
Heretofore winless in two official starts, Devilish Zeus commanded attention for the second time in two weeks. On Jan. 5, he was 1-to-2 favorite in a race for maidens, but the starting gates opened before he was loaded into his stall. Devilish Zeus shot through the adjacent stall and finished near the back of the field, but stewards ordered all bets on him refunded.
After that race, Voss said, "We ended up with a mile workout, but I'm not sure that's what we wanted." Yesterday, he and owner Marion Scullin got $32,500.