Rob Whiteley ducked under the webbing of Stall 1 in Barn 26 at New York's Belmont Park early last Saturday evening and proceeded to wrap his arms around the golden neck of the finest 2-year-old in the land, a filly called Meadow Star.
Whiteley is the director of thoroughbred operations for Wall Street financier Carl Icahn, and aside from buying and selling horses, one of his softer jobs is to encourage and personally congratulate all of the Icahn horses who win stakes and further enrich their wealthy owner. When Whiteley entered the stall and embraced the filly, she dropped her head into his arms and closed her eyes, behaving like a kitten who is about to fall asleep.
A year ago, at the September yearling sales at Keeneland, in Lexington, Ky., Whiteley had given $90,000 of Icahn's considerable fortune for this chestnut offspring of the brilliantly fast Meadowlake, who was just getting started as a stallion. "I thought I was reaching a little, giving $90,000 for a daughter of an unproven stallion," said Whiteley. "But she so impressed me with her attitude and disposition. Unflappable. Alert. Intelligent. Look at her. She has the kindest temperament. When she moved, there was no wasted motion. She was all business in front of a crowd. And that was what she was like today. All business."
Indeed, just three hours earlier, the undefeated Meadow Star was all business-as-usual as she scored her sixth victory—all but one have come in stakes races—by winning the $285,000 Frizette Stakes in a romp, by 14 lengths, and tying the stakes record of 1:35[2/5] seconds for the mile. It was her third victory in a row in Grade I events. In the race just before the Frizette, the $636,000 Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds, a colt named Fly So Free won by 5¼ lengths and thus became the leading male juvenile in the country. But Fly So Free raced the mile in 1:35⅗ a fifth of a second slower than the filly and the equivalent of a length behind her. Meadow Star's time was the same as that posted by the 4-year-old gelding De Roche at the mile mark of the 1¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup—a race run half an hour after the Frizette. De Roche looked as if he were going to win, until Flying Continental, racing on the outside, charged past him in the final yards to win it by a neck.
But Meadow Star's was clearly the best performance of the day over a weekend in which five Grade I stakes were run at Belmont Park. Fly So Free began the series of quality races by winning the Champagne on Saturday; then Meadow Star won the Frizette, and Flying Continental the Gold Cup. On Sunday, Go For Wand, the nation's dominant 3-year-old filly, ran a dazzling race in the Beldame to win her fifth consecutive Grade I race; and Cacoethes, a 4-year-old son of Alydar, led all the way to win the 1½-mile Turf Classic by 1½ lengths and set a new stakes record of 2:25.
These five stakes races are usually spaced weeks apart, and together they form the heart of the track's fall championship season. But this year, New York racing officials bunched the races together on one weekend, hoping they might serve as final major preps for the seven Breeders' Cup races to be run at Belmont Park on Oct. 27. While the intent was admirable—Belmont Park was offering up its most prestigious fall events as a come-on for the traveling show that is the Breeders' Cup—fate intervened to rob the weekend of two of its leading attractions.
Three days before the Champagne, the country's most promising 2-year-old colt, Futurity-winner Eastern Echo, broke a sesamoid bone in his right foreleg after a workout and was retired from racing. That same day, it was announced that the 5-year-old son of Alydar, Criminal Type—the front-runner for Horse of the Year honors and the favorite to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic—had shown tenderness in his left front ankle and was finished for the year. The horse was seen leaving New York in what appeared to be a cast, and rumors abounded that he had suffered a bowed tendon, in which the tendon sheath tears away from the tendon.
The loss of Eastern Echo threw open the Champagne to multiple-stakes-winner Deposit Ticket, who was sent off as the 7-5 favorite, but that colt became seriously unglued after setting the pace to the head of the stretch. He eventually drifted back to finish last in the field of 13 horses. Enter Fly So Free, a colt who had never won a stakes race.
Criminal Type's injury appeared to leave the $838,500 Jockey Club Gold Cup to Izvestia, this year's Canadian Triple Crown winner, but the gray colt grew leg weary after fighting with De Roche for the lead around the last turn and faded to finish third, though he was beaten by only two lengths. Izvestia has not been sternly tested for months—he won most of his 1990 Canadian starts by laughably wide margins—and he might run better in the 1¼-mile Breeders' Cup Classic after having his neck stretched in the Gold Cup.
Go For Wand won the Beldame after she hammered her chief rival, Colonial Waters, through a blazing mile in 1:33[1/5] and then left her reeling at the end of the nine furlongs in a sensational 1:45⅘ only two fifths off the 17-year-old track record. Trainer Billy Badgett, who has done an exemplary job of conditioning the filly, looked awed as jockey Randy Romero reined Go For Wand to a halt outside the winner's circle.
"Thank you," a relieved Badgett said to Romero.
"Thank her!" said the jockey.
"Only two fifths off Secretariat's track record," said an ecstatic Badgett.
Romero's eyes widened. "I didn't even ask her to run!" he said.
Indeed, Badgett says that rather than putting Go For Wand against females in the Breeders' Cup Distaff in three weeks, he is leaning toward sending her against male horses in the 1¼-mile Breeders' Cup Classic. If Go For Wand wins the Classic, she will certainly be voted the 1990 Horse of the Year. In fact, if she passes the Classic and wins the Distaff, she will still draw a strong and noisy following to be named America's premier racehorse.
As for Meadow Star, the four fillies she faced in the Frizette may not have amounted to much, but that was not her fault. She toyed with them through six furlongs in 1:11 and then simply pulverized them through a final quarter mile in :24[2/5]. Meadow Star finished as if she wanted to be a Kentucky Derby horse next May. Her trainer, LeRoy Jolley, knows how to get there. He won the Derby with Foolish Pleasure in 1975 and, five years later, trained Genuine Risk to become only the second filly ever to win the classic. After the Frizette, Jolley was observed teaching Icahn how to walk Meadow Star at the end of a lead shank.
The multimillionaire has been in racing only a few years, but he already owns 90 broodmares and substantial shares in several young stallions, including Ogygian and Blushing John, whose offspring he markets at yearling sales. "He's not in this for a hobby," Whiteley says. "It's a business."
Last Saturday, the business at hand was leading Meadow Star into the winner's circle. Standing on the racetrack, Icahn turned to Jolley and said, "LeRoy, you've got to show me what to do. I don't know how to do it!"
"It's real easy, Carl," Jolley assured him. "When she walks up, she'll have a lead shank on. You take the shank in your right hand, walk her right through there, down to the winner's circle. Make a half turn and stop in front of the camera. You'll be all right."
Calmly, even confidently, Icahn took hold of the shank and strode next to his filly into the circle, holding his head high as he passed the horseplayers who applauded him along the way. It was an excellent rehearsal for a walk Icahn is likely to take again after the 1[1/16]-mile Juvenile Fillies race on Breeders' Cup day.