When undefeated Randaroo showed up in the $75,000 Smart Halo Stakes entries as a late $500 supplemental nominee, Ben Feliciano Jr., the trainer of Home Run Hitter, had a bad feeling. The two 3-year-old fillies had faced each other March 5 at Aqueduct, and Randaroo blew away the field in fast time.
"I didn't want to see that filly in the race, and I didn't think we had a shot," Feliciano said. "I said [to jockey Jose Caraballo], 'Don't try to run with her. Second is fine with me.' "
Bettors agreed with Feliciano's towering assessment of Randaroo, who already had a graded stakes victory on her resume compared with the four other runners who had won nothing of note. They bet down Randaroo to crushing odds of 1-to-9, but when the long stretch duel had ended, Home Run Hitter crossed the finish line a neck in front of the favorite and pulled off the stunning upset at Pimlico Race Course.
On the steps leading back to the jockeys' quarters, Randaroo's jockey, Mario Pino, barely could make sense of what happened. After setting a moderate pace to the three-eighths pole, his filly had been unable to respond when Home Run Hitter challenged her on the outside.
"She got out there real easy, but she struggled at the three-eighths pole," Pino said. "Right there, I was asking her [to run], and that's too soon. I'm kind of in shock myself. She's fine. That's just horse racing. They're not machines."
Home Run Hitter, who went off at 14-1, didn't run especially fast, completing six furlongs in 1 minute 11.94 seconds to score her fourth win in eight starts. The ninth race for maidens went in 1:11.54 and an optional claiming allowance earlier on the card went in 1:11.02.
The moderate time didn't diminish the satisfaction for Feliciano. "Realistically, we didn't think we'd beat this horse," he said.
Racing Notes: Feliciano upset another extremely short-priced favorite in the fourth race as his 4-year-old colt Ameri Brilliance beat 1-5 shot Calends. . . .
Saranoia, a 3-year-old son of the great Seattle Slew, failed for the second time to graduate from the maiden ranks, finishing third in the ninth race as the 6-5 favorite. The colt, owned by Michael Gill and trained by John Robb at Laurel Park, cost $800,000 last year at auction. . . .
For the first time since August, a rider other than 2002 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey Ryan Fogelsonger sits atop the rider standings. Ramon Dominguez rode three winners today to move ahead, 15-13. The lead, however, will be short-lived because Dominguez, who led the country with 431 victories in 2001, plans to ride full time at Delaware Park when it opens April 26.