Saturday, September 13, 2008 12:00 AM
Polytrack debut gets high marks from jocks and trainers
Florence, KY . . . September 13, 2008 . . . Georgia Ryon pulled off a major upset in Friday’s $25,000 John Deere Turfway Park Sprint Stakes at Turfway Park, as American Quarter Horses made their debut over Polytrack.
The stakes race not only was a milestone for Quarter Horses on the newest generation of all-weather surfaces but also marked the first time the breed had raced at Turfway in 36 years. The race drew plenty of interest from a large crowd on hand for the track's Friday night activities, including a barbecue festival. As the Quarter Horses broke the gate at 11:30 p.m., fans were lined up six and seven deep on the rail.
The winner got off a step slowly from the two-hole but quickly made up ground to post a half-length victory over Dials Struttin. Dials Struttin, with Juan Delgado up for trainer Tony Cunningham, broke through the gate shortly before the start but was quickly collared and reloaded. Faye Meeks' Georgia Halo finished another nose back, crossing the wire third in the 10-horse field. Final time for the 330-yard dash was 16.964.
Georgia Ryon, a four-year-old Bills Ryon mare, won an allowance race at The Red Mile July 18, and the Turfway Park Sprint Stakes was just her second start of the year. The victory made the trip from near Vidalia, Georgia, well worth the 10-hour drive for trainer Randy Brown and owner Jerald Collins. "She woke up for us at The Red Mile," said Brown. "I thought she'd be real good in here." Brown also trains Georgia Halo.
Winning owner Jerald Collins said he had planned to send the mare to Louisiana to be bred next year, but her win at The Red Mile changed his mind. Friday night's stakes victory sealed the deal and the breeding shed will have to wait. "I don't know why she woke up like she did, but I told Randy she was in the best shape of her life and ready to go," he said. "I don't know how good she could be."
Winning jockey Howard Pierce, a three-decade veteran rider, said his first experience on Polytrack was a good one. "She left out of the gate a little bit tardy, but she had no problem getting a hold of the track," he said. "I can't say a bad word about the racing surface. It takes the jar out of running. She really seemed to like it."
Pierce's sentiments were echoed by everyone in the jocks' room. "My horse sure ran a good race on it," said Shanley Jackson, Georgia Halo's rider. "We were next to the horse that broke through, and he thought it was time to go and hit the front of the gate. When they did spring the gate, he was just a little hesitant to get out of there and broke a step slow.
"I really liked the track," he said. "You don't have to worry about potholes, and you don't have to worry about stepping in holes from another horse’s tracks."
The trainers were pleased with the Polytrack experience as well. "It's a good, firm surface," said trainer Ron Raper, who is ranked sixth nationally by wins. His trainee, Jeannette Hoover’s Jessluvchicks, bore to the outside rail and finished seventh as the 1-9 favorite. "He was a little nervous in the gate, but this horse doesn't usually get out. He tends to lug in a little. You can't win them all."
Georgia Ryon returned a hefty $50.60 to win and keyed a $30,204.80 superfecta. The late-night stakes race, distributed to Turfway Park's simulcasting network, posted a total handle of $191,883.06.