BALTIMORE, MARCH 4 -- Fog clung to the track and rain turned the racing surface into a sloppy mess as Pimlico began its 75-day meeting today. But Finder's Choice maintained high visibility by keeping his unsoiled record intact.
Facing only three rivals -- two of them nonwinners and the other a female -- Finder's Choice stalked Smarter Than for a half-mile, then moved past the filly with little urging en route to a 3 1/2-length victory in the $42,800 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes. Ridden by Jose Santos, Finder's Choice improved his career record to 4-0 and upheld his Triple Crown candidacy by covering six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. Santos then galloped Finder's Choice another eighth-mile after the finish.
As Finder's Choice was earning $27,820 for owner/breeder Stuart Janney Jr., officials at Laurel Race Course were completing final tests on the system that will allow its patrons to watch and bet on races at Pimlico beginning Saturday. Post time is 1 p.m.
Although the tests were successful, according to Laurel and Pimlico vice president Bob Manfuso, fans at Laurel will be unable to wager on all 11 of Pimlico's races Saturday. Because the intertrack wagering law allows betting only on live races simulcast between the two tracks, Laurel's patrons cannot wager on the $300,000 Florida Derby, a major race for 3-year-olds that will be simulcast to Pimlico from Gulfstream Park.
A bill that would permit betting on "non-live" races simulcast between Laurel and Pimlico is before the General Assembly. Area race track officials want to ensure Laurel receives the Kentucky Derby when it is simulcast to Pimlico on May 7.
And trainer Charlie Hadry hopes to have at least one of his two unbeaten Triple Crown nominees -- Finder's Choice or Private Terms -- live and in colorful form at Churchill Downs. Finder's Choice's chances of reaching Kentucky will be better known after March 26, when he is scheduled to race in the seven-furlong, $150,000-added Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Buckfinder has yet to race beyond 6 1/2 furlongs or Maryland's borders.
Even Hadry acknowledged the Hirsch Jacobs was little more than a glorified workout for Finder's Choice, but said the race was a useful tool nonetheless. "The race just meant getting him fit, not much else," said Hadry, fresh off a meeting at Laurel in which he won 32 percent of his starts.
Hadry noted that horses with speed on the inside won four of the first five races at Pimlico today, so he instructed Santos to stay within striking distance of Smarter Than, who entered unbeaten in four starts and had the No. 1 post.
Smarter Than's jockey, Bob Colton, also detected the speed-favoring results and said, "I thought, maybe, if she could open up a little bit on everyone, the track might help her out."
But Smarter Than never had more than a two-length lead on Finder's Choice, who displayed more speed than in his previous starts; and by the time she hit the stretch, Colton was hard-pressed to keep her ahead of Finder's Choice. Once the 2-to-5 favorite passed Smarter Than, he received one left-handed snap of the whip by Santos, nothing more.
"The way he was going so easy," Santos said, "I have to believe this horse has a future. The distance should help him."
With Hadry's No. 1 rider, Kent Desormeaux, expected out another three weeks with a separated collarbone, Santos has received the opportunity to ride the trainer's Derby hopefuls.
"I like to follow good horses," Santos said, "and if I find one that can take me to the Kentucky Derby, I'll ride him."