On a day best suited for mudders, Testafly made a successful comeback in the Baltimore Breeders Cup Handicap today with a romp through swamp-like terrain at Pimlico.
J.D. Brown claimed Testafly in October 1997 for just $14,500, and the horse and trainer Dale Mills quickly provided Maryland racing with a wonderful human, and equine, interest story. Testafly, who had won just one race in 14 starts before joining Mills's stable, went on a tear, notching five wins, and three stakes victories, in his next eight trips. The most impressive was an eight-length triumph over Hot Brush over a very sloppy Pimlico track in last year's Baltimore Breeders Cup Handicap.
But the story of Mills and Testafly lost much of its sheen last August. After the horse finished third in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth, a race won by Skip Away, stewards at the New Jersey track ruled that Testafly had been given the illegal drug clenbuterol, which can assist a horse's breathing. Testafly was disqualified, Mills's training license was suspended and their share of the $500,000 purse returned.
The cloud over Mills and the horse darkened considerably when Testafly, going off as the favorite, was routed by 27 lengths in the Maryland Million Classic in October, then finished last in the Hail Emperor Stakes in December. Mills took Testafly out of training following that race, and kept him off the track until giving him a chance to defend his crown yesterday.
The rest and relaxation, along with Testafly's fondness for slop, seemed evident from the start of this year's race. Taking off from the outside post, jockey Greg Hutton, who has handled Testafly's reins through good times and bad, took his mount right to the lead along the rail. Edgar Prado and Praise Heaven stayed with Testafly through the last turn of the 1 1/8 mile trip. When Praise Heaven dropped off, nobody else in the seven-horse field came up to contest Testafly.
Hutton put the stick to Testafly at the top of the stretch, and the 5-year-old son of Deputed Testamony, who won the 1983 Preakness on a similarly sloppy Pimlico track, did his dad proud with an amazing final furlong. At the wire, his lead had been extended to 12 lengths over second-place finisher Rod and Staff.
Testafly finished in 1 minute 49.8 seconds, and paid $12.20.
"Turning for home, he just exploded," Hutton said in the winner's circle. "I guess he's back."
Brown gave credit for the stakes win to Mills and Mother Nature.
"Dale Mills did a great job getting Testafly back like he was," Brown said. "The layoff did him great, but he'd been working great for this race. And, well, I did my rain dance last night, and it was there."