Because of his blazing speed, Precisionist is considered a sprinter rather than a distance horse. But get Ross Fenstermaker on the witness stand and his counter-arguments are convincing.
Fenstermaker trains Precisionist, a 4-year-old chestnut, for Fred Hooper.
"Take a look at what this horse has done at a mile and a quarter," Fenstermaker says, ticking off the five times Precisionist has run that distance in the last two years.
The bottom line on Precisionist at 1 miles is five starts, three wins, one second and that puzzling seventh-place finish in last November's Breeders' Cup Classic Stakes at Hollywood Park.
Precisionist's ability to handle 1 miles is significant, since that's the distance of Sunday's $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, which drew seven horses when entries were taken Friday.
Lord at War, who also likes to run on the lead, drew the inside post position, with Bill Shoemaker riding and the weight 123 pounds. Going to the gate outside Lord at War, in order, will be Carocrest, with Rick Dominguez and 108 pounds; Kings Island, Gary Stevens, 112; Semillero, Darrel McHargue, 113; Greinton, Laffit Pincay, 120; Forzando II, Eddie Delahoussaye, 118; and Precisionist, Chris McCarron, 125.
Now back to Fenstermaker, who is under oath:
"The first time my horse ever ran a mile and a quarter, he won the Swaps at Hollywood Park last year. Then he won the Del Mar Derby in the summer, ran second in the Super Derby (at Louisiana Downs), had that dull race in the Breeders' Cup, then won the Strub (at Santa Anita this year), which was also a mile and a quarter. That sounds like a pretty good record at that distance to me."
Precisionist has won only one of five starts at 1 1/8 miles in the last two years and is 2 for 4 at a mile.
Like McCarron, Fenstermaker can't explain the dismal showing in the Breeders' Cup, but the trainer believes that Precisionist had an excuse in the Super Derby.
"He had a big lead in the stretch, and Bill (Shoemaker) put the stick down too soon," Fenstermaker said. "The horse put both ears up, checked himself and just got beat (by a head) by Gate Dancer at the wire."
Asked to name Precisionist's ideal distance, Fenstermaker didn't have an answer. "He's won at just about every distance," the trainer said. "Six furlongs, seven-eighths of a mile, a mile, a mile and an eighth, and a mile and a quarter. We don't know if he can do a mile and a half because I haven't run him that far yet."
In his last start, however, Precisionist couldn't hold off Greinton at a mile in the Californian Stakes June 9 and finished second, beaten by 2 3/4 lengths. But the loss was no embarrassment. Precisionist held the track record, having been timed in 1:32 4/5 three weeks previously in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, and Greinton lowered that by a fifth of a second and also flirted with Dr. Fager's world record of 1:32 1/5, set 17 years ago under 134 pounds at Arlington Park.
In the Californian, Lord at War, a stablemate of Greinton in trainer Charlie Whittingham's overstocked barn, set sizzling fractions, running six furlongs in 1:08 3/5, and Precisionist, who has only one running style, was hard-pressed to keep up.
"I was afraid something like that might happen," Fenstermaker said. "I don't think Charlie wanted the race to go that way, either. But even so, I just think we got outrun and had no excuses. If we had enough horse, we still would have won."
The Gold Cup could be a carbon copy, and this time, in addition to Greinton's charging at the end, the late run of Forzando II looms. Winner of the mile Metropolitan Handicap by 5 lengths with a closing rush, Forzando is being asked to run farther than 1 1/16 miles for the first time in his career.
"What can you do?" Fenstermaker said of a probable speed duel. "It just makes it tough all the way around."
The rivalry between Precisionist and Greinton has been stretched out over five races this year, and the two horses are about as even as they come.
Precisionist holds a 3-2 lead, having won twice by four lengths and the other time by the shortest of noses in the Strub. Besides beating him in he Californian, Greinton also beat Precisionist by a neck in the San Bernardino at Santa Anita in April.
In the Californian, Precisionist carried 126 pounds, conceding seven pounds to Greinton. The spread in the Gold Cup is only five pounds.
Three other stakes races had been scheduled on the program Gold Cup day, but one, the six-furlong Hollywood Express, did not draw enough horses. The stakes that will be run are the $50,000 Quack at a mile for older horses, and the $75,000 Codex Handicap for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on grass.
There's no guarantee that seven horses will start in the Gold Cup. Trainer Jerry Fanning, who has entered Kings Island, said he still may
Horse Racing Notes
Three stakes are on today's card, highlighted by the Princess for 3-year-old fillies, which marks the first start for Fran's Valentine since her victory in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs the day before the Kentucky Derby.
John Henry, who has yet to make his first start as a 10-year-old, won't run in the American Handicap at Hollywood on the Fourth of July, trainer Ron McAnally said Friday. Since resuming training after a layoff caused by a splint injury, John Henry has had three workouts and is scheduled to go seven furlongs Monday morning. There are three possible races for him before he tries to win the Arlington-Budweiser Million for a third time Aug. 25. Hollywood Park may schedule an exhibition race, Atlantic City officials want him to run at their track and another option is the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar Aug. 11.
If John Henry gets to the Million, he will be challenged by the best of a quintet from Charlie Whittingham's barn--Greinton, Lord at War, Dahar, Estrapade and Prince True.
HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP HANDICAP THE FIELD
PP HORSE JOCKEY WEIGHT ODDS 1 Lord at War Bill Shoemaker 123 4-1 2 Carocrest Rick Dominguez 108 50-1 3 Kings Island Gary Stevens 112 15-1 4 Semillero Darrel McHargue 113 15-1 5 Greinton Laffit Pincay 120 8-5 6 Forzando II Eddie Delahoussaye 118 4-1 7 Precisionist Chris McCarron 125 9-5