By Fran LaBelle – Courtesy of NYRA Press Office
Corinthian had always been regarded as a talented horse who had tough luck throughout his career. His luck changed in a big way Monday afternoon as he carried Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux to a three-quarter-length victory in Belmont Park’s Memorial Day feature, the 114th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap, before a crowd of 14,901.
The Met Mile victory capped a big weekend for Corinthian’s trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, and his father, Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens, who ran second in the Met Mile with Political Force. The elder Jerkens, whose only Met Mile win came in 1971 with Tunex, saddled Ecclesiastic, who won Saturday’s Grade 3 Jaipur.
Favored Lawyer Ron finished third, as Corinthian returned $21.60 to win and the $2 all-Jerkens Met Mile exacta came back $285.
For Corinthian, a 4-year-old Pulpit colt, Monday’s victory marked his coming of age in the big leagues. As a three-year-old, he won Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth but was disqualified and placed third. He was pointed for the Aqueduct’s Grade 1 Wood Memorial, but a hairline fracture in his hind leg suddenly squelched the blossoming career. The injury did not require surgery, but after Jerkens brought him back to Saratoga in late July for a distant third-place finish, he was convinced that time would be the best medicine.
Corinthian came back with back-to-back wins in Florida, including the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in March. In his last start, the Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders’ Cup at Aqueduct in April, he jumped in the air at the start and lost all chance.
A hot-blooded type who often gets overanxious in the paddock, Corinthian finally put it together for the prestigious Met Mile. He was kept reasonably close to a pace of :23.21; :45.70 and 1:10.29, came four-wide around the turn and drove hard for the victory in 1:34.77 on the fast main track.
Political Force, who had previously been graded stakes placed, then came with a rally that was partly stalled when jockey Edgar Prado, aboard favored Lawyer Ron, accidentally struck him in the face with his whip.
“When I saw him break and laying that close, I knew we were in business,” Jimmy Jerkens said of his first Met Mile winner. “He ran to his workout the other day. When he is juicy and on the muscle, he’s right. Usually, horses get worse the closer they get to the gate. He settled down once he got with the pony.”
“I thought we had Lawyer Ron, and then I said, `Oh my God, here comes `The Chief’ (his father).’ We were going one at a time, worrying about this race. We’ll have to discuss it with his owners where he goes next. We were willing to throw out the Excelsior to get ready for this one. He broke his maiden going a mile. The work a week ago [five furlongs in a bullet :58 on May 21] was beyond anything I ever saw. I never had a horse do what he did. He was just strong all the way. He was terrific all week. I thought if he didn’t run good today, he just wasn’t good enough.”
Corinthian, who has now won five of nine starts and more than doubled his career earnings on Monday to $694,273, not only proved his was more than good enough, but that the best may lie ahead.
“From what I know of this horse, he’s come full circle,” Desormeaux said. “You couldn’t have planted me at the half-mile pole and asked for better position. More than the position was the way he was carrying me. When a good horse is traveling well, :45 feels like :48. I thought we were going slow, but I knew the caliber of horse I was on. He was so within himself. Coming to the three-eighths pole, he kind of got into gear and acted like he wanted to go for the wire. That was the only time I restrained him and said, `No, not yet.’ When the horses engaged, he jumped back in the bridle. I didn’t have to ask him for much, even when it was time to go. In the stretch, I thought he was just doing enough, quite frankly. All I could hope for at that stage of the race was that nothing came swinging wide and he couldn’t see it. He was really determined.”
H. Allen Jerkens, also known as “The Giant Killer” for his history of upsets in racing’s biggest races, was happy for his son as well as for Political Force’s effort.
“He ran a great race,” Jerkens said. “Now, he’s starting to come into himself. I thought they would go a little faster for the first quarter, but they really started to hum in the second quarter. The only bad race (Corinthian) has ever run was last time when he got stuck in the gate. (The public) got down on him really quick, but Jimmy said he had been working really good. If we couldn’t win, I’m glad Jimmy did.”
Sun King, the 2006 Met Mile runnerup, was fourth, trailed by Latent Heat, Silver Wagon, Half Ours, Silent Name, who was left at the gate, and early pace-setter Mr. Umphrey. Accountforthegold was scratched.