Dec 03, 2004
By: JOHN PIESEN
When I saw the blood oozing from Rockport Harbor"s right hind
in the winner"s circle following the Remsen last Saturday at Aqueduct
by the sea, I was horrified. And I couldn"t help thinking:
Like it or not, now I understand why the Chapmans stopped Smarty Jones
when they did.
Going to the first turn of the Remsen, a 50-1 shot named Pavo, who had
no business being in the race, was permitted by jockey Garcia to run up
on Rockport Harbor"s heel, and open a ghastly wound the size of a
No one, except jockey Elliott, knew at the time that Rockport Harbor was
injured, and when Rocky hit the finish line, a well-measured neck ahead
of Galloping Grocer, the place erupted in cheers.
But there was no such euphoria in the winner"s circle.
The blood was pouring out of Rocky"s foot, and there was no way to assess
the damage at the time.
Godforbid. Was this the ballgame for Rocky?
What followed was not pretty.
Trainer Servis uncharacteristically brushed off post-race interviews, including
TV. John"s wife, Sherry, was in tears as she watched the replay in the
paddock. And TV hostess Jan Rushton showed me a blood trail on the concrete
floor of the tunnel leading from the paddock.
By that time, the hundreds of people who had jammed the paddock area
for the Remsen were gone, replaced by about 30 people who gathered to
watch the Cigar field saddle.
As for this writer, I had no time for the Cigar (or to cash my Rocky tickets).
I rushed to my car, and mad-dashed to the backside to the receiving barn.
This was nervous time.
And it got more nervous when a security guard at the barn asked me
"Are you a vet?", he asked me.
"Who are you then?"
"I"m a reporter."
"Well, buddy," he said, "...you"re going to have plenty to report about."
When I reached Rocky, there was no one around but trainer Servis and
"It"s pretty nasty," John told me.
That much was obvious. The wound was wide open, and there was still
blood pouring out.
The vet (the real vet) then showed up, examined and treated the wound,
and told John: "It"s not major. He"ll be alright. He"ll just need some time."
Not that I know the first thing about veterinary medicine, but I took it as
a good sign that Rocky didn"t flinch as the doc treated the open wound.
Later that evening, Rocky was vanned back to Barn 11 at Philly Park, and
yesterday he was started on antibiotics.
"We"re going to have to trim some of that meat away in a few days,"
Servis said. "It"s got a big old flap on it, and the gash is a good two inches
deep. The injury is not at all career-threatening, but it"s going to take a
while (to heal)."
Starting in early January, Rocky will do his healing at Oaklawn Park in
Hot Springs, Ark. Even before the Remsen, Servis told me that it was no
better than 50-50 that Rocky would skip the Southwest Stakes, scheduled
for Feb. 19.
Now, in light of the injury, you can pretty much assume that Servis will
wait for the Rebel (March 19) to bring Rocky back. That
means that, if all goes well, Rocky will have only two starts -- the Rebel
and the Arkansas Derby -- going into the Kentucky Derby.
This also means that Rocky, like Smarty Jones last spring. will be 6-for-6
going to the Kentucky Derby. What"s more, he, like Smarty, will be favored
in the Derby...and that something will have to sprout wings to beat him.
As I"ve been saying in this space since September, Rockport Harbor clearly
is the best 2-year-old on the planet. And he made his case in the Remsen.
His 1:49 4/5 clocking was the second fastest in the history of the Remsen,
and a second faster than Smarty"s time in the Arkansas Derby last spring.
Moreover, he got a 102 Beyer, and he even made DRF writer Mike
Watchmaker"s Top Ten (eighth), two spots behind Proud Accolade.
And, as it turned out, Rocky did it all on three legs.
Pretty amazing stuff.
When I suggested to colleague Steve Haskin of Blood Horse that we may
have seen the season"s two best 2-year-olds in the Remsen, Steve replied:
"...there"s no maybe about it."
Galloping Grocer, who probably will wind up being the most accomplished
New York-bred of all time, will either winter in New York or south Florida.
Meantime, virtually every other top 3-year-old will be quartered at
Oaklawn Park across from the pizza joints and redneck bars on Central
Avenue in downtown Hot Springs.
Besides Rockport Harbor, Oaklawn will be home to Afleet Alex, the leader
in the clubhouse for 2-year-old champion; Greater Good, a
compelling last-to-first winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club last Saturday
for trainer Holthus and jockey McKee, and Sidetrack, a maiden
(but not for long) from the Servis barn.
I wouldn"t be surprised if Sidetrack winds up representing Team Servis in
Greater Good? Trainer Holthus says the Rebel will be his first start at 3.
The Oaklawn people have been campaiging for months to get the graded
stakes committee to upgrade the Rebel from a 3 to a 2. It seems to me
that the Rebel should be a Grade 1!
POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I know I wrote here last Friday that if Rockport Harbor
was not the Remsen favorite, I will gladly give up my first-born. Rocky
opened 1-2, and Galloping Grocer 3-1, but after the "smart" money came
in, GG went off at 6-5 and Rocky 13-10. Hopefully, Robin, you"ll forgive me.
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