In a familiar role, trainer Charlie Whittingham will try to beat himself today when he starts the two high weights, Prince True and Dahar, in the $150,000 American Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Prince True, winner of the San Luis Rey Stakes and the San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita this year, carries 124 pounds while racing in the colors of Libby Keck of Los Angeles.
Dahar, winner of the Century Handicap and second to Both Ends Burning in the Hollywood Invitational, has been assigned 123 pounds for the far-flung Summa Stable, whose owners include Bruce McNall of Malibu and Nelson Bunker Hunt of Dallas.
How does Whittingham keep different owners happy, frequently running multiple entries in big races? As it turns out, quite easily.
One way, of course, is to scatter the talent, as Whittingham is partly doing today, running Peter Perkins' Lord at War in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.
Another way is to let the owners make their own decisions--and mistakes.
In the San Bernardino Handicap last April at Santa Anita, for example, Summa wanted to run Champion Pilot. Whittingham had Greinton, a horse he owns in partnership with Mary Jones Bradley and Howell Wynne, ready to run in the same race.
"Your horse will get in a speed dual with Precisionist and won't last," Whittingham told McNall and his partners.
But Summa wanted to run, so Whittingham entered Champion Pilot along with Greinton.
"Charlie was exactly right," said Summa official Howard Senzell. "Our horse and Precisionist raced for the lead in real fast fractions. Champion Pilot finished fourth and Greinton won the race."
In the Century on May 5, Whittingham preferred to run Dahar and leave Lord at War in the barn. But Perkins wanted to run Lord at War, even though he was asked to carry 127 pounds, five more than Dahar. Whittingham obliged and Lord at War faded in the stretch, finishing fourth as Dahar won the race.
"One thing about Charlie, he gives his owners a lot of flexibility, both in spots to run and jockeys to use," Senzell said. "But Charlie's amazing. You're usually better off listening to what he tells you in the first place."
Besides himself, Whittingham has five others to beat in the American--Al Mamoon, El Asenor, Ice Hot, Tsunami Slew and The Noble Player. It would not be unprecedented if Whittingham ran 1-2 in the 1 1/8-mile grass race--he did it with Bold Tropic and Inkerman in 1980 and was 1-2-3 with King Pellinore, Riot in Paris and Caucasus in '76.
Whittingham had hoped to be facing John Henry today, because the 10-year-old gelding has frequently defeated the 72-year-old trainer's best in recent years.
John Henry won the '83 American as Whittingham's Prince Florimund ran second.
But John Henry popped a splint bone (above the ankle) in his left foreleg in late March and that's delayed his first '85 start. The best trainer Ron McAnally can expect from John Henry today is a useful workout when the two-time Horse of the Year goes a mile on the grass between the third and fourth races.
For Whittingham, revenge can wait. He has more patience than any of his many owners.