07/30/2006 11:00PM

It's hard to have all the angles

Pure as Gold and Jon Court head for the winner's circle after the Bing Crosby Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Bordonaro is not simply a majestic chestnut who ranks among the finest sprinters in the land. He is also the kind of horse who will stop in his tracks and look you right in the eye, ears cocked forward, all systems humming.

Such animals are described as alert, intelligent, curious. They are the hyper-vigilant members of the herd, on constant lookout for lions and tigers and bears.

And whips. Oh my.

There was a little more than an eighth of a mile left to run in the $300,000 at Del Mar on Sunday when heavily favored Bordonaro fixed his left eye on the stubborn Pure as Gold and set about the task of beating him to the finish. Pure as Gold, a 23-1 upstart, was running the race of his life, down on the inside, pressing fast fractions and now looking as if he was serious about taking the whole prize.

So was Jon Court, aboard Pure as Gold. But there was nary a trace of panic in the behavior of the 45-year-old, Shoemaker-sized veteran, even though Bordonaro and Alex Solis were bearing down hard on Pure as Gold right flank.

Court had the whip in his right hand, still turned down, not quite ready to twirl and strap with a full cut. He was, however, planning to give Pure as Gold a couple of underhand smacks, just to - in the famous words of Hall of Famer Ted Atkinson - "impress him with the urgency of the situation." And so he did.

It was at this point that Bordonaro's head flinched noticeably, even to the naked eye. An immediate conclusion could be drawn - Court's whip had hit Bordonaro on the nose. When Pure as Gold reached the line three-quarters of a length in front of Bordonaro, in 1:08.79 for the six furlongs, Solis called out to the stewards' aide on the track to file a protest.

Immediately, there was a flashback to Sept. 19, 1999, at Woodbine, where a million Canadian dollars were on the line in the Atto Mile. In a dramatic ruling, the Woodbine stewards disqualified Hawksley Hill from his head victory over Quiet Resolve because jockey Pat Day had struck the eventual fourth-place finisher, Jim and Tonic, on the nose near the finish of the four-horse photo.

Solis was certain his horse had been struck. Court, on the other hand, could not be sure. Their testimony was hardly a surprise, but it was civil, coming as it was from two of the room's true gentlemen, and therefore was weighed carefully by the Del Mar stewards.

In these days of full transparency, the California racing public gets to look at the same video replays being examined by the stewards, in real time. As Court stood trackside, awaiting the decision, the big video screen in the infield played the clip in question over and over. And each time Bordonaro's head flinched, the most vocal Bordonaro supporters in the crowd shouted for blood. Court's blood.

"That ought to give you an idea of how it looks to them," Court said. He was not encouraged.

In the end, however, the stewards resisted the temptation to give in to public opinion. They decided the videotape views provided by official track cameras did not show conclusively that Bordonaro had been hit by Court's whip, so the result stood. Pure as Gold, recently claimed for $100,000, gave owner Ron Valenta his first stakes win, and gave trainer Jack Carava his first score in a Grade 1 race.

"I claimed him because he's all heart," said Valenta, a former associate of Wayne Hughes who spun off his own storage company. "But the credit goes to Jack, who's a terrific trainer."

Carava, by his count, is now 2 for 2 in whip inquiries.

"I was on the same end of something like this a few years ago, and they let it stand," he noted.

Chances are, this one will be remembered a lot longer. Scott Chaney, serving his first Del Mar meet in the stewards' stand, certainly has one for the scrapbook.

"You know it's going to be controversial, because the 3-5 shot was involved, and we didn't put his number up," Chaney said. "People are going to be upset, whether it's a good call or a bad call. That's life.

"After the decision was made, I watched the isolated replay that TVG had on Bordonaro," Chaney noted. "It does appear on that view Bordonaro does get struck, although it's hard to say if it was on the upswing or the downswing. Of course, it's moot, since we did not have those views available to us as part of the inquiry."

As it turns out, the Crosby incident has inspired officials of the California Horse Racing Board to meet with TVG network representatives to explore the use of TVG video views by stewards.

"If there is some way we can get the [TVG] feed, without the commentary, we're going to pursue that," Chaney said. "We want as much information as we can to make the right decision."