Friday, May 18, 2012

Yet Another Pimlico Special Comeback

All that is left of them are their memories and their marks in the history books. We’ve let them slip through our fingers, becoming solely a part of history. They’ve become something that we can only reflect on and remember, rather than something we can look forward to. What are these lost treasures? They are the prestigious races filled with history that will never be run again.

Unfortunately, there are several of them. Our last memory of the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap – a race that carries a roll of victors that includes Secretariat, Forego, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Slew o’ Gold, Chief’s Crown, and Turkoman – is  Java Gold rallying down the Belmont Park homestretch to take the ten-furlong race over Nostalgia’s Star, Polish Navy, Gulch, and Bordeaux Bob in 1987. The final time we saw a horse win the Flaming Stakes was in 2001, when Thunder Blitz concluded the race that saw such horses as Citation, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid capture a victory. Recently, we almost lost a race that boasted a list of winners that included War Admiral, Seabsicuit, Whirlaway, Twilight Tear, Assault, Citation, Tom Fool, Cigar, Skip Away, Real Quiet, Mineshaft, and Invasor – the Pimlico Special.

Rich in history, the most famous running of the Pimlico Special was the second installment of the race, which came in 1938 when Seabiscuit and War Admiral went to post in their legendary match race that resulted in the West Coast underdog capturing a victory. Since the initial time the race was run, fourteen Horse of the Years won the Pimlico Special during their championship campaigns.

Following Vertex’s win in 1958, the race appeared to be extinct. It was not contested for thirty more years, returning in 1988 as a handicap race won by the Belmont Stakes (GI) victor of 1987, Bet Twice. But the Pimlico Special, despite being won by five champions between 1988 and 2001, was not run in 2002 due to an issue with purse distribution. However, when it was renewed in 2003, it aided Mineshaft in his Horse of the Year campaign. Following three more editions of the Pimlico Special after Mineshaft’s victory, one of which was a win by 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor, the race experienced an absent year yet again for similar reasons as its nonexistence in 2002.

Prior to Friday, May 18, 2012, the Pimlico Special had only been run once since Invasor’s victory – when the grade one-winning Student Council captured the historic race in 2008. But continuously, as the Maryland racing industry struggled, the race was cancelled.

But on Friday, the race underwent another comeback. Technically it was the William Donald Schaefer Handicap (GIII) with a new name, as the Pimlico Special had previously been deprived of its graded status. Yet the legacy of the Pimlico Special continued on as it attracted a slew of ten very talented handicap horses, six of which had previously won at least one graded stakes race.

The race could not have been any more exciting. The Texas Mile (GIII)-winning Endorsement set an impressive pace while running without the anti-bleeder diuretic furosemide (Lasix/Salix). However, setting the pace took its toll on him and the son of Distorted Humor faltered in the final furlong as the multiple graded stakes-winning Alternation and the multiple grade one-placed Nehro surged past him.

The two dark-colored Thoroughbreds crossed the wire in a tight photo finish that saw Nehro give a runner-up performance that resulted in a very narrow loss for the third time in his career. While rallying remarkably on the outside, the 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up missed by a nose to Alternation, who ran his winning streak to four wins in a row, three of which are graded stakes races.

Like Endorsement, Alternation is sired by Distorted Humor – who is the grandsire of the Kentucky Derby victor, I’ll Have Another. Now possessing four graded stakes wins, Alternation looks to add to the magnificent roll of victors of the historic Pimlico Special. His name is accompanied by the names of some of the greatest racehorses of all-time and his win is certainly one of the most exciting renditions of the Pimlico Special to ever be contested. Hopefully, it was just an indication of what is to come in the future of the race.

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