Rand claims tragedy-marred Iroquois

Monday, May 14, 2001 at 1:00am

One of the oldest caveats of wagering on horse races is to never put a bet down on a gray horse.

But if betting was legal at the Iroquois Steeplechase, those that gambled on a relatively unknown gray horse would have been cashing in winning tickets Saturday afternoon as Rand perserved in one of the stranger versions of this 60-year-old race.

Six horses started the three-mile feature race, but only three finished with Rand winning by 6 3/4 lengths over All Gong, owned by Nashville businessman and horseman Calvin Houghland. Electron, the pacesetter in the race and the leader through 17 jumps, finished third for owner and trainer Dr. John K. Griggs after appearing to tire late. Rand, owned by Eamon J. Cleary completed the race in 5:35 seconds.

Rand came into the race as somewhat of an unknown quantity for the estimated 25,000 spectators. Based in New Zealand for most of his seven years, he raced in April in the world's richest steeplechase in Japan. After winning a warm-up race in a track record time the day before, he and jockey Eddie Lamb fell in the main race. Lamb was able to get back on the horse and ride it to seventh place in a 12-horse field.

"There were horses falling on both sides of us," Lamb said. "All around us there was carnage. I tried to get around it and we lost our legs as well. It was a heartbreaker."

To add to Rand's legend, he was shipped to Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., the day before the Royal Chase. Despite traveling by air from Japan to California to Kentucky, Rand finished third, barely getting beaten by All Gong who finished second. Rand has won eight of his 10 steeplechase starts.

"We only beat him by a length at Keeneland," said Bruce Miller who trains All Gong. "He is a superstar and a tough horse to boot. The Keeneland race is probably one of the toughest races we will have this year."

Miller thought that All Gong, a second place finisher for the second year in a row at the Iroquois, would be closer to the leader early with his daughter Blythe Miller in the saddle.

"It must have been a pretty quick pace by Electron," Miller said.

All Gong, the 2000 Eclipse Award winner, has three second-place finishes in the past month. Miller had expressed concern before the race that All Gong might have needed more than two weeks of rest.

"If we hadn't run at Keeneland, we would have had more horse in this race," Miller said. "But we had to try. He is made now and we had to take a chance."

Lamb said that Rand also had to pick himself up after Keeneland.

"This horse has a lot of heart," said Lamb who would like to race more often in America. "Last week at Keeneland was the first time I had ever gotten to the bottom of him.

"He has such a high cruising speed. He always has something left. He just kept giving in this race."

Lamb walked the track on Friday night, but neither he nor trainer Mark Oulaghan were that impressed with Heartbreak Hill which has been the downfall of many contenders in the three-mile race.

"We had him off the pace," Lamb said. "We were going to he happy to have him following along in second or third and that is how it turned out.

"Heartbreak Hill probably broke the hearts of some of the other horses, but it was just a gradual nice climb for us. It is a pretty straight-forward course. Everything went to plan."

Oulaghan thought his horse wasn't relaxed as he should have been at Keeneland which prompted the decision to cruise for much of the race until making his move late.

"He jumped better than he did at Keeneland," said Oulaghan who has been training Rand for two years. "I think the jumps and the three miles suited him. The going probably suited him too. The rain Friday helped.

"He's got a big heart. He tries hard. And he's genuine. He jumps good and can gallop a bit."

Oulaghan thinks the racecourse at Percy Warner is a nice one, but he did not think it was all that challenging.

"I wouldn't exactly classify it as Heartbreak Hill. I've seen tougher hills than that."

Filed under: City News