Updated on 09/16/2011 6:52AM

The camera is quicker than the eye


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Days after the race, Nick Zito remains incredulous.

"He won," said Zito. "I mean, he won!"

Yet the photo-finish computer will forever say otherwise. The official print shows that Mountain Forum defeated the Zito-trained High Star by about an inch in the ninth race at Gulfstream on Saturday.

Zito isn't the only one who finds the results hard to believe. A vast majority of observers at the racetrack thought High Star was up in the last two jumps to win the first-level allowance by a narrow but clear margin.

Gulfstream's three placing judges, who operate the computer that determines the official order, initially believed High Star won. So did race caller Vic Stauffer, who, confident that High Star was the winner, called "High Star, yes!" when the horses hit the wire.

Shortly after, Stauffer came back on the microphone and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have made a mistake."

Stauffer, 42, said Wednesday that he has called more than 35,000 races, "so of course I've made mistakes before. But that was the sickest head-bob I've ever seen.

"I'm pretty secure in knowing that I can make mistakes," he added. "Five years ago, I would've been suicidal about it. The ironic thing is I have crutches to use to avoid that kind of situation. You can say, 'It could be, I think it was, an inch either way, can't separate them,' all kinds of things. But even after I looked at the slow-motion replay, I circled High Star on my Daily Racing Form. I not only thought he won, I didn't even think it was close."

Although those who bet on High Star obviously incurred a wicked beat, the pain for Zito soon will pass. High Star ran so well in defeat that Zito said he is seriously considering the Florida Derby for the colt.

Hap favored in Canadian Turf

Hap, the Bill Mott-trained 6-year-old who last raced in the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Turf, is expected to be a solid favorite Saturday in the $150,000 Canadian Turf Handicap.

Hap, an earner of nearly $1.3 million, finished fifth in the Turf before going to Payson Park for the winter. Hap shows a sharp work pattern and surely will attract huge backing in the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Pisces and North East Bound, the one-two finishers in the Appleton Handicap on opening weekend, are his top opponents. Other probables include Galic Boy, One Eyed Joker, Star Over the Bay, and TV Sports Director.

The Sunday feature, the $100,000 Davona Dale for 3-year-old fillies, also is shaping up to have a medium-sized field. Prospects for the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile race are Smok'n Frolic, Aly Quatorze, Blissful Kiss, French Satin, Ms Brookski, Redoubled Miss, and Take the Cake.

No Left Bank in Gulfstream BC Sprint

Don't look for Left Bank* to make an appearance at this meet. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Wednesday that a foot abscess caused the horse to miss about 30 days of training. Left Bank returned to the track Feb. 14, said Pletcher.

"We're going to point for the Carter as possibly his next race," said Pletcher. "The main thing is to get a race into him before the Met Mile" on May 27.

As the winner of the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in November, the 5-year-old Left Bank surely would have been the favorite in the biggest sprint race of the meet, the $200,000, Grade 2 Gulfstream Park BC Sprint Championship on March 9.

With his defection, the top prospects for the seven-furlong Sprint Championship are Hook and Ladder, Fappie's Notebook, Dream Run, and Twilight Road.

Hook and Ladder, who skipped the Feb. 9 Deputy Minister because of a wet track, led the Wednesday work tab at Payson Park, breezing four furlongs in 50.40 seconds for trainer John Kimmel.

New-look Fajardo

Handicappers who are interested in the first-time gelding angle may want to take a look at Fajardo, who returns to action in the eighth race Friday. Fajardo, now 5, has been gelded since his last start.

Ralph Nicks, assistant to trainer Bill Mott, said Fajardo has been training well after being freshened following a poor effort behind Guided Tour and Balto Star in the Kentucky Cup Classic in September. Before the Kentucky Cup, Fajardo had been on a tear, winning three races in a row, including the Governor's Handicap at Ellis Park.

The change to a gelding has not been recorded by Equibase or Daily Racing Form because notification first must go through The Jockey Club.

Handicapping contest debuts

Serious handicappers from many destinations will be at Gulfstream this weekend when the Turf-Vivor contest, worth a total of $128,000 in prize money, is held for the first time.

The three-day contest begins Friday. First prize is $100,000, with the balance being distributed to the second- and third-place overall finishers and to the top earners during the Friday and Saturday preliminary rounds. Entries, which closed Feb. 15, were $750.

The top four overall finishers will automatically qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship next winter in Las Vegas.

Gulfstream has never hosted a handicapping contest of such magnitude. Scott Savin, president and general manager, said he is "really excited about this contest. We have people coming from Europe, Mexico, and all over the U.S."

The contest format differs from most others. During the preliminaries, contestants will make $2 across-the-board wagers on one horse in each of five selected races. The 16 players who finish with the highest totals will then advance to the final round Sunday. Those 16 players will be seeded according to total winnings and then face off in head-to-head competition, with each round consisting of two races (in case of ties, the higher seed will advance).

The head-to-head competition will reduce the field until a champion is determined. "It's designed like the NCAA basketball championships," said Savin.

The Turf-Vivor name is a takeoff on the popular television reality series, "Survivor."

Contest rules will cap longshot payoffs. The cap for a win payoff is $42; for place and show, $22.

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