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On Saturday afternoon, Belmont Park provided a stage for the virtues of the New York State breeding program.
The day's card, labeled Empire Showcase Day, featured seven stakes for state-breds worth a combined $1.25 million and it featured a rather astonishing result. Stock Fund actually won a race.
If the name does not ring a bell don't fret. Stock Fund is not the type of horse who would generate headlines in your local daily newspaper, or the Daily Racing Form for that matter.
Prior to Saturday, Stock Fund had started 22 times and lost each time. Yet for the regulars who follow horse racing on Wednesday afternoons in December as opposed to those guests who check in for only the first Saturday in May, Stock Fund's victory had to produce either a wide smile or some chagrin.
For Stock Fund is one of those rare horses that everyday fans embrace as willingly as they do stakes winners because of a steady string of performances that are good but usually not quite good enough. Putting $10 to win on him might be risky, but rooting for him is easy.
In those 22 starts, Stock Fund had finished second 11 times and third four times, making him a lovable runner to those who used him underneath in the exactas and a source of agita for the handicappers who bet him to win. In his last 10 starts alone, Stock Fund turned out to be a beaten favorite seven times as he finished second six times and third once.
So on a card that featured some obvious -- and lopsided -- winners like graded stakes winners Cluster of Stars and Wired Bryan, the fifth race of the day, a maiden race, offered a quandary.
Stock Fund looked like a certain winner on paper, but given his propensity for letting someone beat him to the wire, a handicapper had to wonder whose turn it would be to beat him.
That deep-rooted feeling that something would go awry led to Stock Fund going off as the favorite Saturday but at reasonable win odds of $2.40-to-1. Logic said someone would beat him, yet he was so much faster and more accomplished than his 11 rivals that there were still viable reasons to bet a few bucks to win on him.
Once the starting gates opened, Stock Fund, as usual, stalked the early leaders.
Rosalie's Pleasure held a clear lead midway on the turn of the seven-furlong turf race, but at the top of the stretch Royal Jest, a first-time starter, edged past him to grab a narrow lead.
Then, approaching the eighth pole, Stock Fund rushed up outside Royal Jest and drew alongside the new leader. It was deja vu for those who had ripped up win tickets on Stock Fund in the past as the moment seemed to be at hand for him to become polite and allow his rival to reach the wire ahead of him.
But then, in a sight new to the eyes of veteran New York handicappers and fans, Stock Fund moved past Royal Jest and drew clear in the final sixteenth of a mile. Behind him, no one, yes, no one was gaining on him.
When the wire popped up, Stock Fund was, for the first time, the first one to cross it.The final margin was two lengths, but it was a wait that started 23 races earlier, on Aug. 4, 2011, which had come to an end.
The horse that usually completed an exacta finally topped one and the $319.50 payoff for the Stock Fund-Royal Jest exacta seemed fair on one level. The actual reason for the inflated payoff was Royal Jest's 53-1 odds but to some Stock Fund's victory was the bigger surprise of the two.
For Stock Fund's owners, there was a sad part in biding adieu to the maiden ranks. Heading into Saturday's race, all of their horse's close finishes had accounted for $164,520 in purse money. Saturday's purse, due to a purse enhancement, was worth $90,000 and added another $54,000 to the bank account.
With earnings of more than $218,000 that underscore how winning isn't everything, Stock Fund will finally tackle winners in the near future and handicappers will have to decide if he's as worthy of a wager in an exacta or triple now as he was when he was building up his 0-fer.
There's no easy answer but it will be nonetheless interesting to see if Stock Fund can be as lovable in allowance races as he was in maiden races.
For the answer, don't bother scanning the headlines, you'll have to check the results of a non-descript race that just might be as intriguing as a graded stakes.
Even at a time of year when the Breeders' Cup is on the horizon, sometimes there are days when a seemingly ordinary horses and races can generate more than their fair share of fun.
Sometimes even a horse like Stock Fund wins.