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Hollywood Park Racing : Things Looking Up for ‘New’ McHargue

Times Staff Writer

In 1978, Darrel McHargue was sitting tall in the saddle, having won his first national riding title with a then-record $6,188,353 in purses. Perhaps, the young jockey sat a little too tall or maybe too arrogantly to suit some people.

Indeed, in the ensuing years, McHargue stopped getting the prestige mounts. Trainers and owners, perhaps to teach him a lesson in humility, looked to other jockeys, and his earnings dwindled. Things were so bad in 1982 that the 30-year-old native of Oklahoma City went to England, hoping to get a fresh start.

Understandably, horse racing people in the United States forgot about McHargue. In fact, when he returned last fall for the Breeders’ Cup, his name didn’t appear in the Hollywood Park media guide.

But McHargue learned his lesson, muting what was viewed as a brash, cocky personality and adopted a modest, self-deprecating manner.

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Saturday’s $100,000-added Cinema Handicap, before a sweltering crowd of 29,241 at Hollywood Park, was a perfect example of his penchant for dismissing his own exceptional talents in the saddle.

After guiding Don’t Say Halo through a flawless trip to the winner’s circle, McHargue was quick to credit trainer Christopher Speckert.

“I just followed his instructions to the letter,” said McHargue, whose mount returned $14.60, $9.20 and $6.00 after covering 1 1/8 miles on the turf in 1:47 3/5. “The jockey was just along for the ride. Chris told me to take him to the back early and then take whatever place we could get. He sure picked the right day to put on blinkers.”

Don’t Say Halo, who collected $65,800 for the victory, finished sixth in his last start, and McHargue felt the blinkers put the son of Halo and Never Babble’s mind back in business.

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“Sometimes a horse can get lazy and distracted when he’s running,” said McHargue, who swung wide in the stretch, overtook the field and rolled on to a two-length advantage over Derby Dawning, who finished a half-length ahead of Emperdori. “The blinkers make him concentrate. I hit him a few times in the stretch to remind him what he was supposed to do. I don’t know where he was last time, that wasn’t the real him. Maybe I rushed him to the front too soon.”

These days, McHargue might be the only one finding fault with his performance. He also was aboard Nonno, the first-place finisher in the eighth race, and has 21 winners in the current meeting. His star appears to be in the ascendancy, proving that nice things can happen to nice guys.

“Right now, I’m staying steady,” he said. “I’m getting better mounts. And that makes me feel good. A lot of the right doors are starting to open, and when they open I’ll be ready.”

Racing Notes Longshot Derby Dawning returned $38 to place and $12.80 to show for his second-place finish in the Cinema Handicap. Third-place Emperdori returned $3.60. . . . The $300,000-added Californian will be run at one mile on the dirt, not on the turf as reported in Saturday’s editions. The four-horse field has Greinton carrying 119 pounds, with Laffit Pincay up; Precisionist, Chris McCarron, 126; Bronzed, Darrel McHargue, 115, and Lord at War, Bill Shoemaker, 126. . . . Creme Fraiche and Stephan’s Odyssey, the winning entry in the Belmont Stakes, returned $7.00, $6.40 and $2.60 at Hollypark. Chief’s Crown paid $2.80 to show. Hollypark patrons wagered $801,080 on the Belmont.

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