If the $300,000 Haskell Invitational were being run this week instead of July 26 at Monmouth Park, it's not likely that Ogygian would show up.
Officials of Tartan Stable, the Florida farm that bred and owns Ogygian, one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, are fuming about the fact that they sent a filly to Monmouth to run in a stake last week and she was scratched by the stewards over an ownership technicality.
"That's left a bad taste in our mouths," said John Nerud, who manages Tartan for James and Virginia Binger.
Jan Nerud, John's son, trains for Tartan and he shipped an undefeated 3-year-old filly named Whidah about 60 miles from Belmont Park to Monmouth to run in last Saturday's $100,000 Molly Pitcher Handicap. When the stewards at Monmouth discovered that Tartan didn't have an owner's license in New Jersey, they declared Whidah out of the race.
"We had to do the same thing to a horse with another ownership the day before," said Sam Boulmetis, the state steward at Monmouth. Boulmetis rode more than 2,700 winners in a career that led to his being elected to the racing Hall of Fame.
"Sam Boulmetis was never blessed with too much intelligence at any time in his life, and I don't mind you putting that in the newspaper," John Nerud said.
Boulmetis said the stewards were just following the rules in scratching Whidah. "Tartan was not properly licensed to run the horse," Boulmetis said.
"They were sent a notice that their license would be suspended in 10 days if they didn't re-apply. Then they were sent a second notice 10 days after that."
Nerud said that Virginia Binger is licensed to run horses in New Jersey. Boulmetis confirmed that, but he said that since Whidah was listed to run in the Tartan name, Binger's licensing was insufficient.
Last year, New Jersey officials were not as strict in the Hilco Scamper case. Hilco Scamper won the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth, earning $114,000, but owners of other horses in the race protested the victory because the winner did not have a Coggins certificate on file in the racing department. A Coggins certificate shows that a horse has tested negative for an infectious equine anemia.
More than three months later, Hilco Scamper's win was allowed to stand after a review by a panel that included Boulmetis.
No one disputed that the Coggins certificate hadn't been attached to the horse's papers. " . . . Other provisions of the rule . . . were violated by other participants in the race," the panel said. It was also noted that the rule regarding the Coggins test was "loosely enforced," and "any number of officials and race track managements were in violation" of the rule.
The panel said the violation of the Coggins rule did not affect the way Hilco Scamper or other horses ran in the race.
It seems that whether Whidah was owned by Tartan Stable, or by just Virginia Binger of Tartan, would not have affected the way the filly ran in the Molly Pitcher, either. Racing jurisdictions are constantly vigilant about horses running under hidden ownerships, but this was hardly the case at Monmouth. Tartan has raced such standouts as Dr. Fager, Ta Wee, Dr. Patches, Codex and Muttering, and in 1985 the stable earned $2.3 million to rank fifth in the country.
"It wasn't very satisfying to go to the expense of shipping that filly over to Monmouth and then coming up empty," John Nerud said.
There have been recent attempts by the states that conduct racing to establish a national racing license that would prevent owners from going through a lot of paperwork every time they decide to run a horse in a different state.
Laz Barrera is one trainer who thinks that the national license is long overdue. Barrera used to train for Dolly Green, the Beverly Hills socialite whose horses run in many states.
"It's not right that every time one of Dolly's horses goes to another state, she has to go to some office to have her fingerprints taken," Barrera said.
It's probable that Nerud will cool off in time to run Ogygian in the Haskell. Ogygian missed the Triple Crown races because of injury, and in the Haskell he would have the chance to face Snow Chief, the Preakness winner who'll be trying to rebound from his distant third to the filly Melair in Saturday's Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood Park.
"We're pointing for the Travers (at Saratoga Aug. 16), and the Haskell would fit in with that program," Nerud said.
John Henry isn't the only old gelding who's trying to make a comeback. Chinook Pass, who was voted the nation's outstanding sprinter in 1983, will attempt a return to racing after having operations on both front legs.
Owner-trainer Ed Purvis of Seattle said the surgery was done by Larry Bramlage of Ohio State. Bramlage is a nationally known equine surgeon, having performed operations that saved Mademoiselle Ivor and Saratoga Six in recent years.