HIALEAH, Fla. — The running of the 56th Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah was a race that ended with the taste of ashes, a lingering, hollow feeling that extended even to the people connected with Proud Truth, who was declared the winner after a lengthy stewards' inquiry.
After the stewards reviewed multi-angled television reruns of the final 30 yards of the race for about 15 minutes Saturday and disqualified Chief's Crown in favor of Proud Truth, Roger Laurin bordered on apoplexy in the winner's circle. John Veitch, leaning against a turnstile between the grandstand and clubhouse out behind the stands, acted as though he had been handed a zircon instead of a few carats.
Laurin trains Chief's Crown, who won the Flamingo by a length and then lost it in the stewards' stand because they ruled that the 3-year-old colt had not maintained a straight line in the final three-horse run to the wire.
Veitch is the trainer of Proud Truth, who saved second by a neck over Stephan's Odyssey in a tingling matchup of three of the country's more prominent contenders for the Kentucky Derby.
"This is not the way you want to win a race--it leaves an unpleasant taste in everybody's mouth," Veitch said after Chief's Crown's number on the tote board was moved down to second place and Proud Truth's was moved up to first.
If the shock by Laurin and his jockey, Don MacBeth, wasn't enough, Henryk de Kwiatkowski, the owner of Stephan's Odyssey, charged the stewards' stand with trainer Woody Stephens after the race, accusing them of "doing me out of the race" and later accusing them of "arrogance" because of the way they handled his appeal.
"I will never send a horse here the rest of my life," said de Kwiatkowski, who felt that Proud Truth had interfered with Stephan's Odyssey in the final yards. "What they did was ludicrous. How can you support something that is as grossly unjust as this?"
De Kwiatkowski said that because the stewards didn't disqualify Proud Truth, he would appeal their decision to Florida's state racing board.
Despite eight starters, what figured to be a three-horse race turned out just that way. Chief's Crown, last year's 2-year-old champion, led from the start, with Proud Truth, the winner of the Florida Derby, in close pursuit. Stephan's Odyssey started out in fourth place, but by the turn for home he was third on the outside, with Chief's Crown holding on to the lead far off the rail and Proud Truth in the middle of those two.
"It looked like Don's (MacBeth's) horse (Chief's Crown) started looking for company when he got the lead," said Jorge Velasquez, riding Proud Truth. "The winner was drifting out all the way down the stretch. There was no contact, but he intimidated my horse. The way he was drifting, we could have gone around the track three more times and I wouldn't have been able to get by the horse."
The three stewards were Joseph Anderson, Peter Gacicia and Dee Wade. Wade is a regular replacement for Walter Blum, the former riding star who was absent Saturday because of the death of his mother.
"The 5 horse (Chief's Crown) didn't maintain a straight course in the final 20 or 30 yards--that's what merited the disqualification," Anderson said. "Not maintaining a straight course is interference to some degree. I find no problem with our decision. The 5 forced the 7 (Proud Truth) out in the last 20 yards. The whole problem was basically caused by the 5 coming out."
Gacicia felt there would have been no problem at all if MacBeth hadn't switched his whip and begun hitting Chief's Crown with the left hand.
"The left-handed stick, that's where the problem started," Gacicia said. "Why he went to the left hand, I don't know. The margin was three-quarters of a length (actually, it was one length), and we couldn't play God at that point in the race."
Laurin and MacBeth, who suddenly found themselves standing in the winner's circle without a passport, came off the track together, and it was a tossup as to which was more upset.
"We flat outran that other (horse)," MacBeth said to Laurin. "It would have taken him a half-hour to get by us. They just can't beat our horse, that's all."
Said Laurin: "The only way they can beat us is by the stewards. Don't mind it. There'll be other days. I'm proud of the way he ran."
In the jockeys' room, MacBeth crossed the floor to shake hands with Velasquez at a distant locker. Back at his own locker, MacBeth said: "The other horse was all over the race track, and kept ducking over. There was no physical contact, and we were clear when it happened. My horse came out, but it wasn't bad. Now we've found out who the Chief is--what we've got to learn is who the Indians are."
It was the second time Veitch had won a major race through disqualification.
In 1978, in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, Veitch's Alydar was given the win when Affirmed, the Triple Crown champion, was disqualified.