SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Eric Guillot never has been known for restraint, and a gumbo of emotions was bubbling inside the uncensored Cajun. Three hours after seeing one of his horses drop dead, he was celebrating Moreno's wire-to-wire upset in Saturday's $1.5-million Whitney Stakes, by far the biggest triumph of his training career.
"Anybody here bet?" Guillot yelled to nobody in particular. "Somebody's been taken to school. Where are all those big shots now?"
Presumably, he meant world-famous trainers Todd Pletcher and D. Wayne Lukas, whose colts Palace Malice, the 3-5 favorite, and Will Take Charge, the 4-1 second choice, respectively, couldn't come close to catching a front-runner who had been 2-for-19 lifetime. Palace Malice, the nation's top-rated horse, never was a threat and trudged home sixth, about 11 lengths behind. Will Take Charge, last year's 3-year-old champion, at least put up a fight, coming in third, 4¼ lengths behind.
Second was Itsmyluckyday, which it turned out to be for Guillot, although it couldn't have begun any worse. No sport has more violent reversals of fortune than horse racing, and Guillot was devastated when his 2-year-old colt Sir William Bruce fell in front of the stands after being unsaddled. He had just finished fifth in his career debut, and minutes later he was dead of "an apparent cardiovascular collapse," according to veterinarian Anthony Verderosa.
"I was so disappointed when I lost my nice colt," Guillot said. "I was mostly crying, and people were consoling me. Then I called my help and told them to concentrate on Moreno. Talk about highs and lows in this game."
Moreno led until the final jump of last year's Travers before Will Take Charge nosed him out. Guillot later accused jockey Luis Saez of carrying an illegal electrical device to stimulate Will Take Charge, an allegation the New York State Racing and Gaming Commission found baseless.
Guillot wanted Junior Alvarado to use Moreno's speed yesterday, but Moreno broke eighth of nine and had to be rushed to the front. "I missed the break a little bit, the first step," Alvarado said. "When I asked him, boom, he was there right away. Eric told me to be two lengths in front."
After a quarter-mile, they led by 1½, which was good enough, and pretty soon Moreno was gone.
Palace Malice's no-show stunned Pletcher and rider John Velazquez. "We got the trip we were hoping for," Pletcher said. "It wasn't his day. We were in good position. He just didn't fire today." Velazquez was perplexed. "I don't know what went wrong," he said. "He didn't run at all."
Moreno was unchallenged while setting reasonable fractions -- a half-mile in 47.50, 6 furlongs in 1:11.31 -- and when Alvarado let him loose at the top of the stretch, he had plenty left to hold off Itsmyluckyday and Will Take Charge. "Pace makes the race," Guillot said. "The softer the fractions, the better he is."
Moreno paid $22 after running 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.05.
"It was great," Guillot said. "How can it not be? It's the Whitney. It means so much to me and to my partner and best friend, Mike Moreno, who always believed in me. I'm getting emotional. This is why I get up at 4:30 every morning."
Before the trophy presentation, Guillot jumped on the jockey scales, weighing in at 283. Afterward, like any true Cajun, his thoughts turned to food.
"It sounds to me like my partner might be buying me a seven-pound steroid lobster tonight."