Precisionist is said to be such a curious horse that he pauses to look at cigarette butts on the track. On Saturday, the 4-year-old colt could have stopped to take a couple of puffs going down the backstretch and still won the $213,850 San Fernando Stakes.
In the San Fernando, Precisionist's penchant wasn't cigarette butts; it was a photographer's camera that had been placed under the inner rail near the three-eighths pole.
"He saw that thing and ducked in," said Chris McCarron, who rode Precisionist and continued his domination of stakes races at Santa Anita. "This horse doesn't miss a thing."
At Hollywood Park, it's the airplanes--Precisionist eyeballs just about every one that flies over.
On Saturday, Precisionist didn't run that fast, but by comparison, he was a jetliner, and everybody else in the seven-horse field was a Piper Cub. McCarron was licking his chops so much that it's surprising he stayed in the saddle. Precisionist was allowed to take an easy lead--with times of :47 for the half mile and 1:10 3/5 for six furlongs--and by the time he reached the stretch he had plenty left and no one seriously threatened.
The winning margin over Greinton was four lengths, with Gate Dancer, the second betting choice in a crowd of 37,832, rallying for third, just a neck back of the place horse.
Precisionist, timed in 1:47 2/5 for 1 1/8 miles, paid $5.40, $3.40 and $2.60 as he earned $123,350 for his owner and breeder, Floridian Fred Hooper. Greinton, a French-bred who had won three straight in this country, stumbled at the start but still ran well in his first start on dirt and paid $5.40 and $3.20. Gate Dancer, making his first start in nine weeks after a fever knocked him out of action for a month, paid $2.60.
The win Saturday and Precisionist's victory in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 give him a chance to become the fifth horse to sweep the Strub series, which concludes with the Charles H. Strub Stakes on Feb. 3. The last horse to sweep the Strub was Spectacular Bid in 1980.
The Strub is 1 miles, a distance that Hooper thought was too far for Precisionist last year when the colt skipped the Kentucky Derby.
"Actually," said trainer Ross Fenstermaker, "I thought the horse's three best races last year--the Swaps (at Hollywood Park), the Del Mar Invitational and the Super Derby (in which Gate Dancer won by a head)--were at a mile and a quarter. We'll see. After the Strub, we'd also like to take a shot at the Santa Anita Handicap."
Hooper said that Precisionist was "nervous in those days," referring to the beginning of the colt's 3-year-old season. "Ross has done a good job of training him. You don't want to take a horse to the Kentucky Derby unless you think you've got a good chance."
After Precisionist loped to the lead Saturday, nobody had a chance. "They talk about jockeys having a clock in their head and all that, but I didn't really know how fast we were running early," said McCarron, who is 7 for 10 in stakes this year. "It felt like 49 maybe. All I know is that there was nobody pressuring us and I was saying to myself, 'How sweet it is.' "
Shoemaker wanted to be closer to Precisionist, but the poor start prevented that. In the jockeys' room, Shoemaker smilingly chided Pat Valenzuela for not taking up the chase with Majestic Shore.
"That's the first time you've took up with a horse the whole meet," Shoemaker said.
Replied Valenzuela: "What could I do? The owners wanted me to lay third."
That's where Majestic Shore was for a time, but he finished last. McCarron was surprised going into the first turn that Fali Time, ridden by Sandy Hawley, was a horse trying to keep up.
"I heard a horse breathing," McCarron said, "and I thought it would be Eddie (Delahoussaye, aboard Tsunami Slew). But it was Sandy."
Tsunami Slew, a horse capable of early speed, was in the middle of the pack most of the way and finished fourth.
Pat Day, riding Gate Dancer, brought his mount to the rail coming out of the second turn, but problems developed.
"I had room at the three-eighths pole," Day said. "I was coming around Fali Time, but he got tired and drifted, and then I got pinched between that one and Tsunami Slew. That cost me second money. My horse didn't accelerate through the stretch the way I thought he would. He kicked in at about the sixteenth pole, but by then it was too late."