08/21/2014 3:09PM

Hovdey: Toast of New York just another out-of-towner

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Barbara D. Livingston
Toast of New York finished sixth in the Belmont Derby.

It is said that horses do not have particularly acute vision. Fair enough. But after what he has experienced this season, even an ocularly challenged Toast of New York must be looking around this week wondering where the tour bus has taken him now.

Departing his home ground in Upper Lambourn, England, his first stop this year was the Middle East, where he enjoyed the splendors of Meydan Racecourse in Dubai and rewarded his keepers with an unambiguous victory in the $2 million UAE Derby.

Next he visited New York – with a name like that, he had to, right? – and spent delightful hours rubbernecking around historic, forested Belmont Park before finishing a lightly threatening sixth in the $1.25 million Belmont Derby.

Now Toast of New York finds himself at Del Mar, which must have looked great in those travel-agency brochures. The reality, though, especially for a Thoroughbred from abroad, is somewhat different.

Instead of that five-star Lodge at Torrey Pines, or at least one of the better Del Mar barns, the burly, handsome bay colt finds himself isolated by the USDA in a cramped, plywood prefab stall once used as a penalty box for TCO2 violators and more recently for Doug O’Neill’s stable overflow.

For company, he’s got a series of rent-a-cops who wouldn’t know trainer Jamie Osborne from Ozzie. And the view, if that’s what it can be called, is dominated by the giant aquatic mural painted on the side of a towering, multipurpose stabling structure, tastefully tagged by the artist, kitsch-master Robert Wyland, as “The Whaling Wall.”

Still, like any good business traveler, Toast of New York is making the best of it. After all, he’s at Del Mar to make a splash in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday, not happy hour at Red’s. Jimmy McCarthy, his no-nonsense road companion, was asked by a sarcastic reporter how conditions compared to those back home.

“In every way,” came the dry reply.

But was there, in Osborne’s yard, outsized artwork depicting sea life?

“No,” McCarthy said. “If there was, it’d probably be sheep, though.”

As the advance party for Osborne and owner Michael Buckley, McCarthy does all the honors, from the gallops to the bathing to the mucking of the stall. Here he was now, circling with Toast of New York in the fluorescent light of the high-ceilinged isolation barn as the colt’s rich coat slowly emerged from the damp streaks of his bath.

“He’s taken me places I never would have imagined,” said McCarthy, who, like his boss, is a former National Hunt jockey.

If Toast of New York carries his people to the Pacific Classic winner’s circle, he will have bucked a couple of significant statistical trends.

Only four of the previous 23 runnings of the Classic have been won by 3-year-olds, most recently Dullahan in 2012. Of more concern, however, is the distance Toast of New York has traveled. Since the race began in 1991, there have been only two horses take the Classic off regular training and racing someplace else. Only two victories in 23 runnings – by Kentucky-based Go Between and Dullahan – when all-stars like Cigar, Unbridled, Concern, Touch Gold, Perfect Drift, and Einstein came West and went home empty-handed.

Then again, Toast of New York’s rich score in Dubai was his first race in almost five months, indicating that he can hit town ready to rock. And while his defeat in the Belmont Derby was on grass, Toast of New York returns Sunday to a synthetic surface that he clearly handles with aplomb. Before his win on Tapeta at Meydan, he scored runaway allowance and maiden wins on Polytrack at England’s Wolverhampton Racecourse.

McCarthy was quick to note that Del Mar’s Polytrack was a variation on what Toast of New York has raced and trained over back home.

“I walked it yesterday,” McCarthy said. “By comparison to our Polytracks, this is a bit more sandy. Ours has a lot more Vaseline on it and binds together a bit better, although I’m sure there was more watering to do here.”

Still circling, McCarthy picked apart Toast of New York’s race in New York with a dispassion horseplayers appreciate. Like the Pacific Classic, the Belmont Derby is 1 1/4 miles.

“It was only his second run on grass,” McCarthy said. “He may not quite possibly have seen the trip out. And as good as he is, he was going up a notch from Group 2 in Dubai to Group 1, so in the end, he might have run a better race than he’s given credit for. The second horse won the Secretariat, and even the fourth horse won a Group 2 in Deauville the other day.”

True enough, the Belmont Derby has become a key heat that could gain even more significance if the winner, Mr Speaker, can have an impact against Wicked Strong, Bayern, and Tonalist in the Travers on Saturday. Based on such intangibles, Toast of New York could look even better by Sunday afternoon.

For now, the colt was back in his stall as McCarthy busied himself with cleaning the tack. A horse on a nearby walking ring stopped to whinny in the direction of the newcomer, who cocked his head in an attempt to make eye contact. Toast of New York looked like a horse a long way from home, but at least he was trying to make friends.