Sunday's editions incorrectly identified a photo as Northern Wolf. Pictured was Valay Maid, winner of Saturday's Pimlico Twixt Stakes. (Published 8/20/90)
BALTIMORE, AUG. 18 -- A Maryland-bred speedster broke Pimlico's track record and won the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash today -- but it wasn't the champion filly Safely Kept.
The nation's reigning sprinter was finished after she had run barely a quarter mile and suffered the worst beating of her career as Northern Wolf drew away to an impressive 2 1/2-length victory over long shot Glitterman.
Northern Wolf's time of 1:09 for six furlongs broke by one-fifth of a second a mark that had stood for 20 years.
This race had been billed as a confrontation between Safely Kept, winner of 13 of her last 14 starts, and Sunny Blossom, the brilliantly fast West Coast speedster. The two of them are habitual front-runners, and they figured to be battling head-and-head from the gate.
Northern Wolf's trainer, Hank Allen, and his jockey, Mike Luzzi, hoped they could benefit from such a duel. Luzzi said, "Hank and I agreed to sit off the two of them and let them burn themselves up." The race couldn't have developed more favorably if they had written the script themselves.
The day didn't go according to script for Sunny Blossom, however. Jockey Pat Valenzuela, probably the best rider of speed horses in America, came to Baltimore for the race, but didn't appear at Pimlico.
The jockey called the stewards from a Baltimore hotel at 2:30 p.m. and told them he was too sick to ride. Trainer Eddie Gregson hastily asked people at the track to recommend a substitute, and got the meeting's leading jockey, Edgar Prado, to fill in.
Prado did what he had to do, and what Valenzuela would have done: He put Sunny Blossom in high gear as soon as the gate opened. Chris Antley asked Safely Kept for her abundant speed too. The two of them raced eyeball to eyeball for a quarter mile.
To people not familiar with this track, the fractional time of 22 seconds flat might not look fast, but because horses don't get a running start before the Teletimer is activated in Pimlico sprints, the fractions never look fast. But to the best of anybody's memory, nobody has ever run a quarter mile here faster than 22.
As the leaders dueled, Northern Wolf and Glitterman sat behind them. But even Luzzi had to be surprised by the way the front-runners succumbed. Safely Kept started dropping back by the time she had reached the turn, enabling Sunny Blossom to take a brief lead.
But then Northern Wolf accelerated on the outside and blew past the California horse. By the time the 6-to-1 shot turned into the stretch, the first running of the De Francis Dash was as good as over.
Glitterman passed the two tired leaders too, but was never able to threaten Northern Wolf in the stretch run. Sewickley rallied to finish third, followed by Safely Kept, Brave Adventure, Sunny Blossom and Kechi.
The winner was bred and is owned by three psychiatrists -- Howard Hoffman, John Meeks and Allan Cahill -- and is, according to Hoffman, "the best-adjusted horse on the track." He showed great promise at the start of his career, but failed to live up to the hopes trainer Allen had when he entered the colt in last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
This spring he was a disappointment in distance races again, and Allen said: "Let's start over and see if we can get him winning again." He put the gray colt back in sprints, and in mid-June Northern Wolf responded by running six furlongs in 1:08 1/5 at Laurel, smashing the track record.
He gave a disappointing performance in his next start, but he signaled his readiness for the
De Francis Dash when he worked six furlongs in 45 flat last week.
His victory today suggests that Northern Wolf has finally found his proper milieu.
"Hank had told us he was the best racehorse in the country," Hoffman said. "We just didn't know at what." Now they know: After this performance, Northern Wolf has proved he is one of the country's best sprinters.