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Drama in the Berkeley Handicap

Monday’s Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap had almost as much intrigue after the race as it did going into it.

A much anticipated match up between up-and-comer Hudson Landing (winner of the San Francisco Mile)  and nine-year-old stakes veteran Awesome Gem (highest current money winner with over 2.7 million in earnings) proved to be  tough for the bettors to pick a favorite, as both went off at 3-1.

The race went pretty much as expected in the early going, Speedster Michael The Man set honest but slow fractions while Positive Response keep the leader to the task. Hudson Landing and Anthony’s Cross raced as a pair a few lengths off the leaders.

As the field rounded the turn in the stretch, Positive Response put away Michael The Man and got first jump on Hudson Landing and Anthony’s Cross, who were making their move together. Awesome Gem, last at the half mile mark started slowly gaining into the stretch and went to the outside of a crowding field. That move by jockey Aaron Gryder proved to be the key to his race.

In mid-stretch, Positive Response drifted out slightly, forcing Anthony’s Cross to shift inside. As Anthony's Cross and Hudson Landing tried to gain on the leader, ‘Response then drifted in near the finish, forcing Kerwin John on Anthony’s Cross to take up and bump Juan Hernandez on Hudson Landing.

Positive Response went on to be the first under the wire, out finishing a steady closing Awesome Gem by ¾ of a length, who stayed clear of trouble on the outside. He was ½ length clear of Hudson Landing and Anthony’s Cross.

As the horses jogged back, the inquiry sign went up as both the stewards and jockey Kerwin John claimed fouled against winning jockey Julien Couton.

The horses unsaddled and headed to the backside. While Couton and John talked to the stewards, the process of awarding the connections of Positive Response continued, including a very large and happy group of people posing for the winners circle picture.

Moments later, as the trophy presentation was about to happen, track announcer Michael Wrona announced that Positive Response had been disqualified and placed fourth for interference in the stretch. The stewards decision, although unanimous, caused for many opinions to be mixed.

Immediately, some fans were yelling of a southern California prejudice.

While Positive Response’s trainer William E. Morey declined comment, his jockey didn’t agree with the decision.

“I don’t think I cost anybody a better placing,” said a disappointed Couton. “My horse ran a very good race. He kind of drifted out in the lane and I switched my stick and he drifted in but he responded every time…that’s all I can say.”

John, who called an objection , was sure he was denied a better placing. “The first time he came out it stopped me in my tracks, then he came back in again. It may not have cost me the race but it cost me second or third.”

Awesome Gem’s connections, although in the winners circle to be presented the trophy, was denied a winners circle picture because the horses had already been returned to the testing barn.

“He’s an incredible horse. We were the recipient of a good situation, “ said trainer Craig Dollase. “ I was surprised when I saw all the horses leaving because I saw the race and said that 'horse is coming down' but they took the picture and everything so I guess we will have to super impose him (into the winners circle picture)," Dollase said with a laugh.

Actually the connections did take their own picture on the backside to commemorate the win.

GGF general manager Joe Morris agreed that the picture should have been done on the track.

"They should have both stayed," Morris said afterward. " I think since the second place finisher was not the one filing the objection, he just jumped off the horse and went barn. This is something I have corrected for the future."

So Awesome Gem added to his legacy with his first Grade 3 win and Hudson Landing looks to the future on yet another top performance, but what shouldn't be lost on people is that Positive Response showed he is all the way back from a one year layoff and was the best horse on this day.

After a tough 2011 when he won the California Derby and the Johnny Battaglia at Turfway (before finishing 8th in the Spiral Stakes), 'Response has clawed his way back to be a tough customer going forward the rest of the year.


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Older Comments about Drama in the Berkeley Handicap...

Nice Job Don - thanks for including the 'win photo'.
Good article, but what do y ou feel should have been the outcome? I think the DQ helped out the 3 Hudson's Landing. Looks like Anthony's Cross was going to have enough to pass the 3 and Positive Response had enough that no one was going to catch PR. The 1 was moving and had a definate 2nd. Looks like the results to me would have played out 4-1-3. Odd that they photo was taken when the inquiry was still up.. Great race regardless.
  • bay.area.backstretch · Steve, i don't know if you were able to see the head on, but Hudson Landing got knocked sideways in deep stretch and thats the point that Gem went past for second. I think Landing could have got second with the mishap, he does his best work in the final furlong. · 1461 days ago
Must gave been so uncomfortable, disappointing, and even infuriating for the connections of the horse that was taken down. Looks like steps are being made to avoid such situations in the future.
Good write-up Don! I'll post a link to this on WP's page.
Strange place for a winner's circle photo.

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