A fantastic finish following a narrow escape marked, and marred, the first stakes race of the season at the Fort Erie Race Track Sunday.
Quick thinking and hard riding by veteran jockey Mike Quong turned into victory for Speedstorm, a 4-year-old filly that narrowly escaped a two-horse spill that resulted in the death of a horse and hospitalization of another jockey in the $25,000 Fort Erie Slots Cup.
The accident on the first of two turns in the 1 1/1 6th mile event jarred the Canada Day crowd of about 4,600 out of its holiday mood.
Speedstorm was running in fourth place on the clubhouse turn when the second-place runner, Getmovinshoes with Marty Mercieca aboard, snapped her left front leg and fell in front of third-place Sockhopper, who also fell and unseated Kris Robinson.
"The horse went down a little to my right. I just missed Marty," said Quong.
"There was a couple guys on my inside going into the turn. I was trying to give them a shot [at avoiding the fall] and that made me stay out a little wide. . . . When the horse went down it kind of startled her [Speedstorm] and she dropped the bit. I had a hard time getting her going again, everybody ran by her."
Meanwhile, the front-running True Reality (Regina Sealock up) opened a six-length lead while the field's five survivors chased her. Speedstorm, last and widest on the turn, and Marden Hill, second-last and on the inside under David Piques, closed determinedly to finish 1-2 with a length between them in a clocking of 1:46.31.
Quong said he wasn't paying much attention to what was going on ahead of him in the Fort's first stakes race of the season.
"I was trying to get her going more than anything," he said.
"It was terrible. It took a lot of excitement out of the race," said winning trainer Daryl Ezra. "We got shuffled back to last, we got jammed up. It happened so fast, I thought we were going down too."
After the race, in which Speedstorm paid $11 to win, there was about a 40-minute delay while Getmovinshoes, trained by Austin Hinds, was euthanized (Sockhopper was unharmed) and medical attendants ministered to Mercieca before taking him to Welland General Hospital with undetermined injuries.
Later, in a call to the hospital by a track official, Mercieca said, "I'll be back tomorrow. You're not going to stop the Bulldog."
Speedstorm, a bay Florida-bred who was purchased last fall for $5,000, was the 10th winner of a Fort Erie Cup or "in-house" stakes race for Daryl Ezra since 2000. Cup races are restricted to horses with a specified number of local starts. Speedstorm, a daughter of Cohiba, now sports a 4-3-1 mark in eight Fort starts.
"She's a hard-trier. . . . She's never run a bad race," Ezra said.
Quong, 50, finished the day with four winners, doubling his season total to eight.
In the race after the feature, Quong was named a substitute aboard Bold Banker for Robinson, who was shaken up and sore. After he was tossed from Sockhopper, Robinson caught and held the fatally injured Getmovinshoes until aid arrived. Sockhopper, meanwhile, ran the wrong way up the homestretch, back to the barn area.
In a movie script-like move, Bold Banker broke slowly, fell about 15 lengths back, and then came flying to win in the last jump.
"I don't think he had enough warming up. . . . [Because of the delay] we went right straight to the [starting] gate instead of warming up. She [trainer Stephenson] told me in the paddock to give him a good warm-up. . . . He used the backside for a warm-up and when he hit the three-eighths pole [midway on the turn] he was ready to roll. I thought I had too much ground to make up . . . but when he caught up to the stragglers he really got into it," Quong said.
"I've won four in a day before, but nothing like this," added Quong, who rode his first winner at the Fort in 1976. "It was nice, I needed that. I've had a couple of weekends where I didn't win a race."
Bold Banker paid $16.90. Quong also won on Draven's Cross ($15) and Apogee Moon ($27.10).
Scott Fairlie and Mark Fournier each won a race and remained deadlocked atop the track trainers standings with 11 winners each.