Horse racing is weeks of anticipation. And sometimes it takes only 73 seconds to come face to face with reality.
Vince Curran, the former Penn basketball player, has a lot of friends in the city. When he invited most of them to a tailgate Saturday at Philadelphia Park, many of them were only too happy to accept.
"It's going to be the biggest tailgate ever at the Pha," Curran said.
When he was told it was also going to be the first tailgate, Curran was not discouraged. A crowd of 60 or so hung out in the parking lot - cooking, drinking, telling stories - until it was time to come inside for the Pennsylvania Nursery, where Double Down Vinman would be the 6-5 favorite against a field of Pa.-bred 2-year-olds. Curran is part of the DDV ownership group.
It was a wonderful day. Then, the race was run.
DDV vied for the lead, had the lead around the turn and then faded when challenged in the stretch, finishing third, 8 lengths behind winner Notgivinmyloveaway. The winner ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.59.
DDV's connections really wanted the colt to come from a bit off the pace as he had in his dominating maiden win. Instead, DDV was battling for the lead through quick fractions. By the time the colt came to the top of the stretch, DDV had nothing left.
Mark Reid put together the partnership that owns the horse. He is nothing if not a realist. He would like to have seen the colt get an easier trip, but . . .
"He's regressed his last two starts," Reid said.
The colt might have run somewhat better if he had been able to come from off the pace. But this was simply not a good effort, certainly nothing close to what the colt had shown when breaking his maiden. The winning Beyer figure was 81, slower than DDV's 83 from Sept. 5.
Sometimes a young horse can run a race so fast it is a predictor of bigger things to come. Sometimes a young horse can run fast and never do it again.
DDV did not run nearly as fast as that maiden win in his next race on Oct. 10, but it appeared the colt had legitimate excuses. Trainer Tony Dutrow, one of the best in the business, felt certain the colt would run back to his best form on Saturday.
Now, you wonder because the Pa. Nursery looked just like the previous race, only the competition was better. Thus, a too-close-for-comfort win became a distant third with essentially the same performance.
Horse racing is an excuse sport. It is only the very best horses that never need excuses.
It was always a longshot that DDV was going to be one of those kinds of no-excuse horses. And Curran, hoping against hope, knew that.
"What are you going to do?" Curran said. "I wanted him to run well and he didn't. If he ends up running in a bunch of Pa.-bred races and we get to watch him run at the Pha, that's fine, too."
Smarty Jones dominated the Pa. Nursery in 2003. Hard Spun won the race last year. They passed a test and went on to greater glory.
Double Down Vinman needed to pass the test to get a chance to see if he belonged among the better 3-year-olds in 2008. He did not pass the test. He will race on. It just is not likely to be in the races that lead to the races where every owner really wants his horse. *