08/25/2008 12:00AM

Go Between flies once again


DEL MAR, Calif. - Peter Vegso, the owner of the freshly crowned Pacific Classic champion Go Between, was wondering aloud why Thoroughbred racing is so harsh on its noble losers.

"Look at the horse yesterday in the Travers, and look at Well Armed today," said Vegso, publisher of the popular "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series of feel-good anthologies. "In many countries they honor the first three finishers, just like the Olympics. They deserve recognition as well."

No argument here. To minimize the performances of Mambo in Seattle in the Travers and Well Armed in the Pacific Classic - not to mention Tiz Elemental's wafer-thin second to Dearest Trickski in the Rancho Bernardo on the Classic undercard - would dim the glow surrounding the winners. But the fact that custom lavishes all the postrace attention upon the horse who hit the wire first underscores the cold reality of the game. Vince Lombardi was talking about football when he said, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." He might as well have been rapping about racing.

And so it was that Well Armed's owner, Bill Casner, and trainer, Eoin Harty, had to be satisfied with the cursory cluster of sympathetic media surrounding them in the shadow of the Del Mar grandstand as they watched the video replay of Well Armed hitting the front at the top of the stretch. Go Between caught him at the end to win by a neck.

"He almost didn't lose," said Casner with a shake of his head.

Harty, still hoarse from screaming Colonel John home in the Travers for Casner's WinStar crew the previous day, resorted to a kind of Irish mime as he tried to describe the run to the wire. He was asked if he picked up on Go Between's progress as Well Armed shot clear of the field.

"No, I was giving it this with my horse," Harty croaked, shoving with his hands and shoulders. "Where'd the winner come from?"

From midpack, with a brilliant ride by Garrett Gomez - the same Gomez who took the Travers before breaking WinStar hearts in the Classic.

More specifically, though, Go Between comes from Florida, where he was bred by Vegso. This time last year, at the age of 4, the son of Point Given was still a turf horse, winning a few off-Broadway stakes in places like Louisiana Downs and Tampa Bay, while trading on his 3-year-old rep as the winner of the million-dollar Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs.

The epiphany came at Keeneland last fall in the Fayette, when Go Between beat Stream Cat in his first try for Bill Mott on Polytrack. Three months later, Go Between's fate was sealed by winning the nine-furlong Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita, over a squeezed and scraped mutation of Cushion Track that yielded a dizzy clocking of 1:45.64.

Subsequent seconds in the Santa Anita Handicap, the Ben Ali Handicap, and the Hollywood Gold Cup did nothing to discourage Mott and Vegso from putting Go Between on the plane again and shipping him west for the Pacific Classic.

"He loves to travel," Vegso said. "The people who go with him say he's bright and enjoys every moment. He'll go back to Bill's stable at Churchill Downs now, and be back here for the Breeders' Cup."

The Pacific Classic boiled down the non-Curlin corner of the older horse division to its essentials. Together with the retired Heatseeker, Go Between and Well Armed have been the most consistent performers this year, shipping far and wide, firing every time. In the flush of victory, Vegso was asked if he would like to join the bombastic chorus led by the Big Brown and Curlin camps and issue a challenge to meet Go Between at high noon, or at least in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

"I won't go that far," Vegso said with a smile. "Part of me says that I hope they all stay home. But for the good of the game, I would hope that Big Brown and Curlin show up. I know Go Between will be there."

So will Bill. Notoriously reluctant to ship himself, Mott was home nursing his Saratoga blues late Sunday night when Go Between saved what was left of a summer to forget. Despite a solid season that finds him in fifth place on the national money list, Mott had suffered through winning just 2 of 60 starts at his beloved Spa. He was busy on Saturday running Court Vision in the Travers, so it was hard to picture the unhurried Hall of Famer hustling to make the last flight out to the coast for a 12-hour turnaround, especially when top assistant Kenny McCarthy had things at Del Mar under control.

"This is a nice horse and he seems to run his race every time," Mott said an hour after Go Between's Classic. "I thought that maybe we could win the Travers and the Pacific Classic this weekend to kind of make up for the rest of the Saratoga meet."

Court Vision finished sixth.

"You've got to be ready for the highs and lows of the game, and you can't take the lows too hard," Mott added. "It hasn't been easy here this summer, but I don't think they're ready to pass the hat for me just yet."