07/06/2017 2:30PM

Hovdey: In Suburban, Follow Me Crev emulating best of the West

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Barbara D. Livingston
Follow Me Crev has ventured east in search of a big payday in the Grade 2 Suburban.

California racing is an island – at least, that’s what we are led to believe – but sometimes the natives screw up their courage and push out to sea, venturing forth past the protective reef to confront the terrors of the great beyond.

Man, I shouldn’t have had that third helping of “Moana” with the young one.

Anyway, the shrinking prune that has become the West Coast stakes program has driven owners, trainers, and their best horses to seek graded-stakes riches in time zones other than Pacific. Among the modern practitioners, Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill have gotten very comfortable with the idea of road games, and even Richard Mandella, a notorious homebody, will sally forth when the horse is right.

Jerry Hollendorfer’s increasingly national stable struck early this year with It Tiz Well in the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park, then trotted out stable star Songbird to win the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park. John Sadler, whose luck out of town had been notoriously grim, nailed the Apple Blossom Handicap with Stellar Wind, while Bob Hess came up nothing but cherries with Imperative in the Charles Town Classic.

Keeneland’s spring meet looked more like a stroll through Universal CityWalk after Jeff Mullins won the Elkhorn with Itsinthepost, Tim Yakteen took the Transylvania with Big Score, and O’Neill bagged the Blue Grass with Irap. During the two-day stakes feast surrounding the Belmont, Peter Miller set the table by winning the True North with Roy H, then Baffert devoured the Acorn, Met Mile, Easy Goer, and Woody Stephens.

Now, it is Vladimir Cerin’s turn. The native of Croatia, by way of UCLA, is at Belmont Park on Saturday with Follow Me Crev to run in the $750,000 Suburban at 1 1/4 miles on the main track against the locals Shaman Ghost, Keen Ice, Sunny Ridge, Watershed, and Matt King Coal. Cerin has secured John Velazquez for the ride, which never hurts.

Follow Me Crev is a 5-year-old son of Quality Road who knows how to take a punch. It requires a strong stomach to watch his last race in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, where he came up 3 1/4 lengths short of catching Cupid. With Kent Desormeaux hanging on for dear life, Follow Me Crev was attacked from the left out of the gate by Cupid’s stablemate American Freedom and shunted to the back of the field.

Still, with nearly 1 1/4 miles to run, there figured to be time to make up the ground if he was good enough. Then again, Desormeaux wasn’t sure what he had to work with.

“Kent thought his horse might have been hurt,” Cerin said in the wake of the Gold Cup fiasco. “He rode him very carefully until he was certain he was going well. By then, he had too much ground to make up, but what a brave performance.”

From the half to the wire, Follow Me Crev steadily chipped away at the gap to Cupid, who was enjoying a perfect trip. Desormeaux angled out for the stretch and gave his horse every chance to pull off a miracle, but it was not to be.

“Fortunately, he came out of the race with only a little cut on his leg,” Cerin said from Belmont on Thursday. “I gave him a couple of sessions after that in the hyperbaric chamber, and he’s done nothing but train well since. Now he hears my voice and is asking for a cookie.”

Follow Me Crev races for Dave and Holly Wilson, who first made national headlines with Cerin when Early Pioneer upset the 2000 Hollywood Gold Cup at 25-1. Cerin also won the 2007 Pacific Classic with Student Council and the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Albertus Maximus.

The Suburban, trying hard to cling to its place on the American racing landscape, has become a part of the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival topped by the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks. It is a shame, however, that the race no longer requires the racing secretary to pass judgment on the relative merits of its starting field.

Run as a handicap for more than 100 years, the Suburban is now weighted on a formula that could only have been devised by a committee with little or no regard for racing history. The 123-pound base weight is three pounds less than the 126 prescribed by the scale of weights accepted since Sunny Jim wore short pants.

There is a two-pound penalty, however, for a horse who has won a race at a mile or longer worth at least $1 million to the winner since Jan. 1, 2016, fine print clearly written with Arrogate in mind that would have required the best horse in the solar system to carry only 125 pounds. Even so, that was not enough to tempt him east.

Shaman Ghost carries 123 pounds, a drop from the 124 he carried to win the Pimlico Special in May. Quite by accident, the spread to Follow Me Crev’s 117 seems about right since the two were weighted at 122 and 118 when they met in the Santa Anita Handicap and finished first and third, separated by 5 1/2 lengths.

Can Follow Me Crev find those five lengths on foreign soil? Give him a clean break, and it will be entertaining to find out.