History will not be kind to Gato Del Sol. He will be remembered as one of the least accomplished winners of the Kentucky Derby.
Gato Del Sol, who won the '82 Derby against 18 horses whose remaining careers were just about as lackluster as his, won only four subsequent races before his owners finally retired him to stud the other day.
None of the four later wins--which gave the 6-year-old gray a career total of seven--amounted to anything. There was an allowance race at Saratoga in 1982, three months after his Derby victory; in '83, a win on the grass in the spring at Hollywood Park and a win in the minor Cabrillo Handicap at Del Mar in August; and this year, a win in the obscure Caballero Handicap at Hollywood May 18, which was the last start in Gato Del Sol's 39-race career.
Gato Del Sol went through all of 1984 without winning. Even so, he probably ran his best post-Derby races last year. He was beaten by a neck by Interco in the San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita, ran third behind John Henry and Royal Heroine in the Arlington Park Million, and was second, a length behind Both Ends Burning, in the Oak Tree Invitational.
Through endurance and numerous close finishes in big races, Gato Del Sol went out a millionaire, his $1.3 million ranking him 26th in career earnings.
He made about one-third of that total in two minutes of work on a sunny afternoon at Churchill Downs in 1982, a 2 1/2-length victory that even jaundiced historians can't take away from him.
Although Gato Del Sol had finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland the week before, he went off at 21-1 odds in the Derby. And why not?
He had won only two races in his life, and the Blue Grass was his seventh non-winning performance since he had taken the Del Mar Futurity in September of '81.
This writer said there were seven horses that had legitimate chances to win the '82 Derby, and Gato Del Sol wasn't one of them.
There were two things in Gato Del Sol's favor, however. For openers, no one knew that he was running against one of the weakest Derby fields in years. Timely Writer, who had won the Flamingo Stakes and the Florida Derby, and Hostage, winner of the Arkansas Derby, were out with injuries. The lukewarm favorite was Air Forbes Won, winner of the Wood Memorial and undefeated, but a colt who had run only four times.
For another thing, Cupecoy's Joy, a filly, ran one of the fastest three-quarter miles in Derby history, and Air Forbes Won and El Baba, the second betting choice, tried to stay with her. All three horses paid the penalty. By the time they had to look down Churchill Downs' long stretch, they were spent. Gato Del Sol, who broke from the 18th post position, was in last place for a while, looped the field going down the backstretch and then was brought between horses by jockey Eddie Delahoussaye through the stretch. The horses who finished second, third and fourth--Laser Light, Reinvested and Water Bank--also came from far back.
Had Gato Del Sol's owners, Arthur Hancock III and Leone Peters, known what was ahead, they might have retired their horse the day after the Derby. Gato Del Sol was probably an $8-million stallion then, but last November, before he ran eighth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes at Hollywood Park, Hancock estimated that the horse's value had shrunk to about $2.5 million.
To the owners' credit, they never stopped trying with Gato Del Sol, whose sire, Cougar II, had been a grass champion as a 6-year-old.
There were physical problems along the way. Trainer Eddie Gregson wisely skipped the Preakness, incurring the wrath of most of the state of Maryland, and after a distant second-place finish to Conquistador Cielo in the Belmont Stakes, Gregson wanted to bypass the Travers at Saratoga, too. But Gato Del Sol did run in the Travers, finished last and suffered a chipped knee that sidelined him for almost nine months after surgery.
In the fall of '83, Gregson lost Gato Del Sol to Charlie Whittingham, who had trained Cougar. Maturity, an emphasis on grass races and Whittingham's considerable expertise still couldn't produce another major win for Gato Del Sol. What jockey Angel Cordero once said about Gato applied to too many of his races: "The horse is what you would call a plodder; he keeps running at the same pace all the way around the track."
This year, the horse developed an ankle problem, and even though Whittingham squeezed out that last win in the 1 1/2-mile Caballero two months ago, Gato Del Sol still finished with a record of only 2 wins in 17 starts on the turf. Even the grass wasn't greener.
Less jaundiced historians will remember Gato Del Sol as a Derby winner who raced into his sixth year, the first to last that long since Tomy Lee, winner of the race in '59. He was still on the track as a 7-year-old. But Tomy Lee made only three starts from ages 4 through 6.
Gato Del Sol's seven wins are the fewest for a Derby winner since Pleasant Colony, who finished with six after winning in '81. Before Pleasant Colony, however, you have to go back to '67 and Proud Clarion to find a Derby winner who was retired with fewer than seven wins.
Those are the unimpressive numbers that Gato Del Sol takes with him to stud.
He needs a successful career in the breeding shed to overturn them.
Horse Racing Notes Ben Felton, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, issued an order Wednesday that stays, or suspends, the board's June 21 approval for Hollywood Park to run a quarter-horse race during the current thoroughbred meeting. A quarter-horse race has been opposed by thoroughbred horsemen, who appealed the board's decision at a hearing on July 10.
"All that was discussed at the hearing was whether Hollywood Park was breaching the horsemen's contract," Felton said. "Reconsidering our approval wasn't taken up, and in the best interests of racing, that should be done at a future meeting."
Hollywood Park, whose season ends Monday, reportedly may try to get Felton's decision overturned in court so that a quarter-horse race can be run. "I haven't had a chance to look at the stay," said Neil Papiano, the track's attorney. "But from what I've heard, I wouldn't think that Felton has the authority to issue a stay. I'll read it tomorrow (Thursday) and then we'll figure out what to do."
Although Hollywood Park hasn't announced a quarter-horse race, Jim Brennan, general manager of the Pacific Quarter Horse Racing Assn., said from Los Alamitos Wednesday that some of his horsemen were expecting to run in one Sunday. "It's my understanding that the race would be for $100,000, at 440 yards, with some of the top quarter horses at Los Alamitos to be invited," Brennan said.
The furor over the quarter-horse race has overshadowed what figures to be an attractive closing weekend of racing at Hollywood, with undefeated Hilco Scamper running Saturday in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, John Henry making his first start as a 10-year-old Sunday in the Underwood Handicap and Greinton shooting for a $1-million bonus Monday in the Sunset Handicap. . . . Del Mar's 43-day season will open next Wednesday with the Oceanside Stakes. The meeting will run through Sept. 11, with the first $100,000 stake being the Eddie Read Handicap Aug. 11. . . . John Henry has been assigned 126 pounds for Sunday, the same weight he carried in winning his last start, the Ballantine's Scotch Classic at the Meadowlands in New Jersey Oct. 13. Next on the list of nominees is Fatih at 117 pounds. . . . Several California trainers will be in Lexington, Ky., for Keeneland's yearling sales next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.