Fran's Valentine won the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita March 2, and the 3-year-old filly's owner, the ubiquitous Earl Scheib, actually collected the purse money.
The part about Scheib's collecting needs to be said, because the previous time Fran's Valentine finished first, in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Hollywood Park Nov. 10, Scheib got nothing.
When the 77-year-old Scheib goes on television to plug his car-painting business, one of his promises is, "No ups and no extras." On Breeders' Cup day, the stewards gave Scheib no breaks and no purse, disqualifying Fran's Valentine and placing her 10th for knocking a horse off stride at the top of the stretch.
The Las Virgenes purse of $77,150 hardly compensated for the Breeders' Cup, in which the winner's share was $450,000. But Fran's Valentine could regain more of the lost loot Sunday at Santa Anita in the $150,000 Santa Susana Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race that has drawn seven other 3-year-old fillies, including the four that finished immediately behind Scheib's horse in the Las Virgenes.
No matter what Fran's Valentine does the rest of her career, none of the filly's connections--Scheib, trainer Joe Manzi and jockey Pat Valenzuela--will be able to forget the disappointment that visited them on Breeders' Cup day.
"For heartbreaks in racing, the disqualification ranks right behind Roving Boy," Manzi said. Roving Boy, the champion 2-year-old colt in 1982, collapsed just past the finish line after winning the Alibhai Handicap the following fall and died as a result of the injuries.
Manzi believes that the Breeders' Cup disqualification also cost Fran's Valentine the 2-year-old filly title. Outstandingly, who wasn't involved in the foul, finished second, a half-length behind Fran's Valentine, and was moved up to first by the stewards. Three weeks later, Outstandingly beat Fran's Valentine by almost three lengths in the Hollywood Starlet, a win that clinched division honors.
Both Manzi and Valenzuela say that Fran's Valentine should not have been disqualified in the Breeders' Cup. Scheib, for publication, at least, hasn't complained.
"After the race, I just kept my mouth shut and walked away," he said recently. "But it just broke my heart. That's just about the biggest disappointment I've ever had in racing. I got hundreds of calls from people telling me how sorry they felt."
Fernando Toro, who rode Pirate's Glow, the horse Fran's Valentine bumped, said he could have been killed and was critical of Valenzuela after the race.
"I don't think it was as bad as it sounded," Manzi said. "I think my filly took as much of a blow as the other horse. I know Toro said he had a handful of horse at the time, but I thought his horse was finished. If my filly had stayed where she was, she would have gone down herself."
Even with the contact, Manzi didn't believe the stewards would disqualify the winner of a $1 million race. "I thought it would be like the Kentucky Derby, where they've never disqualified the winner," Manzi said.
Fran's Valentine, foaled on Valentine's Day and named after Scheib's late wife, has been trouble-prone in several of her recent races. Despite winning the Las Virgenes, she was trapped in tight quarters through the stretch run.
Said Manzi: "At the eighth pole, she was behind a wall of horses. But she got clear by making a complete right turn. She's getting better, she's accelerating more when she needs to turn it on in those tight places."
Wising Up, also entered Sunday, was third in the Las Virgenes, finding a way to lose that even Fran's Valentine hasn't yet discovered. Closing quickly on the outside, Wising Up saw the tracks that had been left by the starting gate and tried to jump them, losing her momentum.
"There are a million ways to lose a race," Wising Up's trainer, Wayne Lukas, said later. For Manzi, it feels as though Fran's Valentine has already shown him the other 999,999.
Horse Racing Notes The Santa Susana field, in post-position order, consists of Fran's Valentine, Rose Cream, Rambolie, Savannah Dancer, Trunk, Rascal Lass, Goldspell and Wising Up. . . . Missing is Folk Art, who bruised a foot while finishing sixth as the odds-on favorite in the Las Virgenes. . . . Rascal Lass was second, two lengths behind Fran's Valentine, in the Las Virgenes. . . . Bill Shoemaker, who rides Savannah Dancer, has won the stake nine times, second only to his 11 wins in the Santa Anita Handicap. . . . Pat Valenzuela is at Golden Gate Fields today to ride Hula Blaze in the San Francisco Mile.