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Track, competitors make race a success

“There are going to be a lot of fast times here,” a field coordinator says of the course.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


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DADE CITY -- Top prospect Segregation Lane gave it all he had in Sunday's featured race at the Little Everglades Steeplechase, but a fast track and seasoned competition wore him out and ran him down.

The highly touted 4-year-old gelding set a fast early pace in the $50,000 grade III stakes race, the third race of the day, but the thundering herd behind him matched him step-for-step, on the 2-mile course over National Steeplechase Association fences. When the crowd headed for the uphill home stretch, jockey Arch Kingsley aboard War Talk blasted over the final two hurdles and charged to the finish line.

"It was too fast, too much speed," said Segregation Road's jockey, Matthew McCarron.

With one-eighth of a mile to go, horses streamed past him, relegating him to a disappointing fifth-place finish.

McCarron said he was aware of the high expectations he carried, but even before the race he was wary of War Talk, trained by the sport's winningest trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.

Kingsley said he knew War Talk's abilities, and he correctly anticipated McCarron's early bid for the lead. For the rest of the race, Kingsley stalked the leader and pushed Segregation Lane harder than McCarron wanted to run, Kingsley said.

"When we got to the bottom of the hill, heading up for the last two hurdles, I knew we had more," Kingsley said. "We just went on by."

Jockeys, owners and NSA officials attending Sunday's Little Everglades race, the first held on the new $750,000 track just north of Dade City, declared the new facility a great addition to the steeplechase circuit.

"The course couldn't be better," Kinglsey said. "It's an absolute peach of a course. I think it will be one of the highlights of our spring circuit."

That is high praise for a course that didn't exist last year and that is in the mix with races that go back a hundred years.

Jockey Liam O'Hara secured himself a place in Dade City lore by finishing first in the first race ever run on the track.

O'Hara dueled with last year's champion jockey, Gus Brown, in the $15,000 opener, finally pushing 5-year-old gelding Corner House ahead on the homestretch.

"The course has a very European style," said O'Hara, a veteran of racing in England. "There's big, wide turns. It's very fast, very smooth."

In the second race of the day, O'Hara took a huge lead early on Tarzan D'Monkeyman, but the pack ran him down at the end, and Yoke, ridden by Robert Massey, pushed on for the win in the $25,000 race.

In the fourth race, jockey Craig Thornton took an early lead, lost it, then came back to win aboard Electron.

And in the fifth race, Fast Steppin' Man struggled for the lead throughout but couldn't come up with enough to beat Ethical Action, ridden by Brown.

There was no wagering at Sunday's events.

NSA Field Coordinator Frank Hopkins said the first year on the new track was a success, with no injuries and complaints.

The track earned an 8 out of a possible 10 rating at prerace inspection, but Hopkins said any sub-optimal remarks were due to the hard surface, which will soften as the turf matures and the roots get a better hold in the soil.

"It's definitely a speed track," he said. "There are going to be a lot of fast times here."

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