06/29/2010 11:00PM

Stretch run gives trainer a case of deja vu


MIAMI - What did a 3-year-old filly named Trip for A.J. accomplish for Milt Wolfson here last weekend that no lawyer could do? Get the veteran trainer a little satisfaction for what he believed to be a miscarriage of justice that took place over the same racetrack nearly two years earlier.

On Nov. 8, 2008, Wolfson ran his multiple-stakes-winning mare Annabill in defense of her title in Calder's $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap. Annabill raced within easy striking distance of pacesetter Amazing and appeared to be ready to overtake that rival when the leader suddenly began to take an erratic path in late stretch, first drifting in and then back out in front of Annabill as the pair approached the wire. Annabill had to alter course a couple of times under jockey Javier Santiago during the crucial closing stages of the event, falling inches short of catching the winner at the wire.

Santiago wasted little time claiming foul against jockey Jermaine Bridgmohan aboard Amazing for interference through the stretch. After watching the replays for several minutes, the stewards, who never posted an inquiry, allowed the result to stand.

Wolfson was livid as a result of the stewards' decision not to disqualify Amazing. The next day, he began proceedings to appeal the decision. It wasn't until more than a year later that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering told Wolfson that the appeal could not be accepted and that the stewards' decision was final, and Wolfson gave up the fight.

Fast forward to last Sunday. This time, it was another Wolfson-trained filly, Trip for A.J., who was bearing down on the leader, Regina Twain, in late stretch of the Noble Robyn Stakes. Once again, the leader failed to keep a straight path, drifting out enough to brush Trip for A.J. in the shadow of the wire. As was the case in the Heubeck, the stewards never posted an inquiry sign, but Wolfson's rider, again Santiago, wasted little time claiming foul.

This time, however, the end result was different as Wolfson and Santiago were elevated to the top spot after the judges disqualified Regina Twain and placed Trip for A.J. first.

"When they came across the wire, I said to myself 'Don't tell me this is going to be another Annabill,' " Wolfson said. "When I watched the race live from the side, you couldn't really see much. But after watching the head-on, I thought the number had to come down. Javier said the other horse had slammed into him twice. I felt we had a chance to get put up, although usually, when the stewards don't post an inquiry, you are screwed."

Wolfson said what happened Sunday still doesn't erase the bad taste from the Annabill decision and the appeal process, which proved quite unsatisfactory.

"It took over a year before I heard anything from the state, and then they send me a letter saying I don't even have a right to appeal the decision," Wolfson said. "That the stewards' decision was final. They never even gave us an opportunity to go to arbitration."

Wolfson sold Annabill privately not long after her second-place finish in the 2008 Heubeck. A winner of 18 races, including eight stakes, and with more than $700,000 in career earnings, Annabill last started June 4 at Monmouth and finished seventh, beaten nearly 15 lengths in a $40,000 optional claiming race.

Like Annabill, Trip for A.J. was bred by Peter Fuller, who also owns the filly, a 3-year-old daughter of Trippi. The Noble Robyn was her second win and first on turf.

"She had been stopping in some of her sprints, but after scoping her we found she had a big ulcer on her palate, so we gave her a little time, let that heal up, and then put a tongue tie on her," Wolfson said. "I think what she really needed was the two turns more than the grass, and I believe in the long haul she might turn out to be an even nicer filly than [Annabill] because she'll run on turf or dirt."

Wolfson will be in action with a couple of 3-year-old colts on the July 10 Summit of Speed program, having nominated Bernie the Maestro and Peace At Dawn to both the Grade 2 Carry Back and $100,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Handicap.

"I hate running against myself in the Carry Back, but the Umphrey is for 3-year-olds and up," said Wolfson. "They'll both run on the turf, so I'll just wait and see how the two races come up before making a decision."

* First Passage worked a bullet half-mile in 48.20 seconds here Wednesday, breezing early enough to beat the rain that hit later during training hours. First Passage is the top local hopeful for the Grade 1 Princess Rooney on July 10.