The long-shot colt Pettit's Quest weathered both a surface shift and an early pace as hot as the afternoon temperatures while winning the $60,000 Humphrey S. Finney Stakes on the dirt at Laurel Park yesterday.
The 1 1/8-mile stakes race for Maryland-bred 3-year-olds, named for the man who founded Maryland Horse magazine in 1936, is normally run on the inner turf track. But John Passero, Laurel's senior vice president for racing surfaces and backstretch operations, decided that Friday night's thunderstorms had left the grass unsafe for racing. The move to the outer track prompted trainer Mark Hennig to scratch morning-line favorite Temptation Bound, who had never finished in the money on dirt.
After Temptation Bound's departure, bettors sent reigning Deputed Testamony Stakes champion Smart Guy off as the odds-on favorite in the Finney Stakes, while making Pettit's Quest, at 6-1, the fourth pick in the six-horse field.
The Delaware-based Good Fellas Stables snagged Smart Guy at the 1997 Timonium yearling sale for a mere $10,000. Under Tim Ritchey's guidance, the son of acclaimed stud Smarten has gone on to earn more than $200,000 and two stakes wins in his 16 starts, or almost twice as much money as Pettit's Quest had posted in his career prior to the Finney Stakes. Pettit's Quest won last year's Rollicking Stakes, but hadn't visited the winner's circle once in 1999. That drought caused owner Edward Krishack to transfer the Norquestor sire from trainer Fran Campitelli to Linda Albert's stables this spring.
Albert, with the owner's blessing, chose jockey Nik Goodwin to replace Jozbin Santana as Pettit's Quest's rider. "And he's been getting better and better ever since I turned him over to Linda," Krishack said.
The improvement was manifest in the final furlong of the Finney Stakes. Goodwin, as per instructions from Albert, had kept his colt several lengths off the lead for the first mile, and merely watched as Smart Guy and Minister of Decorum, with Edgar Prado aboard, contested for the lead over the first mile.
Coming into the stretch, Goodwin asked Pettit's Quest to make an outside charge, and horse and rider quickly found that the early speed duel took quite a bit out of the favored pace-setters. So much, in fact, that neither of the early front-runners could adequately respond to Pettit's Quest charge. At the wire, it was Pettit's Quest by one length over Smart Guy, leaving Krishack feeling quite wise. "I don't mind that the bettors didn't look at my horse," a jubilant Krishack said in the winner's circle. "I can tell you I put $1,500 on him [to win] today."