by Frank Vespe
Victor Santiago was not talking.
The 28 year-old jockey had just ridden the hair off Behemoth, putting the five year-old son of Giant’s Causeway under a drive for nearly three-eighths of a mile, and now he was done. He started to walk to the jockeys’ room, stopped, bent over double with hands on his knees. He looked like he might vomit, or pass out.
After a moment, the spell passed, and he straightened up, waved would-be helpers away, and headed back to rest.
Safe to say it was not how he intended to celebrate his horse’s 11-1 upset in Saturday’s John B. Campbell Handicap at Laurel Park. The second-longest shot in the field of five, Behemoth had a wide journey — not a bad thing on this day — circled the field on the turn for home, and edged 3-10 favorite Managed Account by a nose. Concealed Identity, the longest shot on the board, finished third. The first stakes tally of his career ran Behemoth’s earnings to more than $276,000.
“He do everything right,” trainer Claudio Gonzalez said of his jockey. Gonzalez himself did some things right on the day; one race prior to the Campbell, his coupled entry of Ivy Chain and Simmadownnow ran one-three in an allowance race, also at 11-1 odds. And one race after the Campbell, his Star Maneuver finished third (at 13-1) after leading in the stretch.
“He’s tired,” Gonzalez added, of Santiago. “He had to make 114 [pounds] — maybe he’s 118. And he ride hard.”
Behemoth and Santiago weren’t the day’s only stake winners who needed every inch of the stretch, and every ounce of will, to prevail.
[pullquote]”Sometimes in life, you just gotta take a shot. You never know, never give up.” — Somraj Singh[/pullquote]
Three races later, in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, Rajiv Maragh put My Wandy’s Girl on the chase early, and those two dogged leader La Verdad, with Jose Ortiz up, every step of the way, finally pulling clear in the race’s late stages to win by a length. Favored Centrique was a neck back in third.
“She seems to have a much better fight when she’s involved in it somehow,” Maragh said of the five year-old Flower Alley mare, trained by Michael Hushion. “I was just hoping she got a clean break and got involved in the race and give her her fair chance of winning.”
It seemed an odd choice of tactics for a horse whose usual approach involved sitting a bit off the pace. And leaving the turn, it seemed it might have been the wrong choice. Maragh had My Wandy’s Girl under a drive, but La Verdad seemed to have the race under control; even worse, Centrique, under Victor Carrasco, had begun to make a stout move on the outside.
“It was looking a little iffy there with a horse on the inside battling back and one on the outside coming,” admitted Maragh.
But Maragh and his mount persisted.
“At a moment, it felt like she was running pretty much as hard as she could, and I wasn’t going to be able to find any more,” said Maragh. “But I switched leads, and she found more. She gave me a second wind.”
My Wandy’s Girl had finished second as the favorite in the Fritchie a year ago. It looked for all the world like she remembered that, and was determined not to let it happen again on Saturday. With the win, she has now earned over $573,000.
“She gave me everything she had,” added Maragh, just before he hustled off to ride in a $12,500 maiden event. “She took some out of the bottom of her, some out of the reserve tank.”
So, of course, did Behemoth and Santiago in the Campbell. They provided a good lesson, owner Somraj Singh suggested, in horse racing, and in life.
“Sometimes in life, you just gotta take a shot. You never know, never give up,” he said with a smile. “You gotta try.”
(Featured image, of My Wandy’s Girl, by Laurie Asseo.)