BALTIMORE, JULY 26 -- While Kechi was busy making more than $300,000 as an established sprinter the past two years, Air Attack was doing very little on a Howard County farm because of a bad leg. Both showed up for the opening of Pimlico's summer meeting today, Kechi continuing his winning ways and Air Attack showing that you can go home again.
Kechi enhanced his formidable winning percentage by overpowering Cook's Brown Rice in the final half-dozen strides to take the $55,025 Groovy Handicap. Two races earlier, Air Attack found the winner's circle for the first time since August 1988, overcoming a bowed tendon and eight rivals to win a $25,000 claiming race in style.
Pimlico's dirt track produced very quick races as the 32-day meet got underway, creating a possible record-setting scenario for the Groovy. Northern Wolf was deemed the favorite for that role, having set the six-furlong mark at Laurel in his last race, but he never got the lead from Cook's Brown Rice, despite having it well within his reach.
The 4-5 favorite was second for most the race, until Kechi -- after going three-wide through the turn -- blew past him and and Jeweler's Choice well into the stretch. He ultimately beat Cook's Brown Rice by a half-length in 1:09 2/5, one-fifth of a second off the track record, while Jeweler's Choice finished third and Northern Wolf fourth.
Ridden by Mario Pino, Kechi ($11.20) won his 18th race in 40 tries -- a 45 percent rate -- and moved within $6,000 of the half-million mark. Owner-trainer Walter Reese has prospered by keeping his 4-year-old clear of the nation's best sprinters, but said he might consider next month's $350,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash here, in which he would surely find them.
Air Attack had no stakes-caliber horses in his midst today, but that didn't lessen his accomplishment. The gray horse was three for three in August 1988 when a bowed tendon threatened to end his racing career. Trainer Barclay Tagg gave him time to heal and began giving him daily whirlpool treatments. Today, in his third race back, Air Attack thrashed his competition on the turf course.
From the far outside, he angled to the lead under Allen Stacy and didn't appear to slow much. After quarter-mile fractions of 22 3/5, 46 1/5 and 1:10 2/5, he proceeded under essentially a hand ride to finish 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 for a nine-length victory.
"He looked like a horse who could go long, and I like grass races," Tagg said. "I figured, with it being opening day, the turf course wouldn't be too tough on that tendon."
First for Desormeaux
Keith Desormeaux won his first race as a Maryland trainer when Longsufrin'Charles finished a nose in front of Waldo Me in the opener, paying $12.
Desormeaux, 23, the older brother of jockey Kent Desormeaux, saddled two winners at Louisiana Downs before launching his training career here two months ago. Longsufrin'Charles, a 4-year-old he claimed for his father for $12,000, is one of nine horses under Desormeaux's care. Stablemate L.D.'s Girl was a late-running fifth in her debut later on the card, narrowly missing a piece of the purse. . . .
Trainer Steward Mitchell was cited for a second phenylbutazone violation in three months when Explosive Kid showed the excess following his third-place finish in a race at Laurel July 20. Mitchell, who chose not to have a split sample tested, was given a 15-day suspension beginning Friday.