Bel Air Handicap : A Diamond in Rough, Beginning to Sparkle, Wins Impressively

Times Staff Writer

Super Diamond has earned almost $500,000 the hard way. He's earned it by overcoming surgery, a bleeding problem and most of all by overcoming himself. In another time, Super Diamond had virtually no the manners.

One summer at Del Mar, in the post parade prior to a race, Super Diamond tried to jump on top of the car that took the patrol judges to their elevated stations around the track.

As a younger horse, Super Diamond was a combination of things that are anathema for a trainer: He had a bad temper and enough size to convince him that he was the boss.

Other than fitting him for a straitjacket, gelding Super Diamond was the only answer, and that happened at an early age.

"If he hadn't been gelded, he would have been an impossible horse to train," trainer Eddie Gregson said.

Injuries, one requiring arthroscopic ankle surgery, also made it difficult for Gregson to train Super Diamond, a 6-year-old who has never been sound for much more than five months at a time.

As a result, Super Diamond has run only 25 races in his career, only three all of last year. But the California-bred's 25th start, in Sunday's $182,000 Bel Air Handicap at Hollywood Park, was probably his best effort ever, and now Gregson can smile and say to himself that the long struggle was worth it.

Super Diamond, a hardy second to the inimitable Precisionist in the Californian three weeks ago, came back to win the Bel Air by 1 3/4 lengths over Alphabatim, doing things that even Gregson and his jockey, Laffit Pincay, didn't think he was capable of.

For one thing, Super Diamond ran inside horses and didn't quit, something he's been unwilling to do in the past. When the eight-horse Bel Air field turned for home Sunday, Gregson and Pincay cringed, because Super Diamond was on the rail, with Herat and Skywalker not far away on the outside.

"I thought I was stuck down there," Pincay said. "But he kept running."

Alphabatim, forced to go outside when a hole on the rail failed to materialize, rallied from the middle of the pack for second, three-fourths of a length ahead of Skywalker. But Skywalker was disqualified to fourth place by the stewards for bothering Herat in the stretch.

Super Diamond, earning $96,500 for his owner-breeder, Roland Sahm of Rancho Santa Fe, boosted his career total to $493,583. Slightly favored over Skywalker in the crowd of 30,895, Super Diamond paid $5.20, $3 and $2.60. Alphabatim returned $3.80 and $2.60 and Herat's show price was $3.60.

Carrying 117 pounds, four more than top-weighted Alphabatim, Super Diamond was timed in 1:47 3/5, a fifth of a second slower than the track record Fran's Valentine set last year.

Three races before, at Santa Anita in April, Super Diamond bled internally while finishing sixth and he's been racing with a diuretic medication ever since.

"I'd like to downplay that because he really didn't bleed that much in that race and the medication is only a part of the whole picture," Gregson said. "He's older and sounder and the way he ran inside horses today shows me that he's also matured."

Pincay started the weekend trailing Fernando Toro, 6-5, in stakes wins for the season. Now Pincay has a 7-6 lead, having also taken Saturday's Princess Stakes with the undefeated Melair.

Pincay rode Melair because Pat Valenzuela had been suspended; he picked up the mount on Super Diamond in the Californian because Rafael Meza had been injured.

Before the Californian, Pincay hadn't ridden Super Diamond since they finished third in the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park in November of 1984.

"He's a lot different horse," Pincay said. "He tries better and he's more willing. I knew the leaders (Herat, Immamorato and Skywalker) weren't going to last and I was just hoping that they would stay to the outside. The way my horse is going now, I give him a chance in the (Hollywood) Gold Cup."

The $500,000 Gold Cup, which is expected to feature Precisionist, is scheduled for July 20, the second-last day of the meeting. Gregson has questions about Super Diamond's ability to handle 1 miles, but he plans to run him.

On Sunday, Alphabatim ran on dirt for only the third time in his career and was near the rear of the field going down the backstretch.

"We had only one problem, the horse in front of us at the end," jockey Chris McCarron said. "When I had to go to the outside and come around horses, we lost a little ground. Super Diamond had opened up several lengths on us by then, and even though my horse finished well, we couldn't catch him."

With a quarter-mile to run, Gary Stevens had Skywalker moving rapidly on the outside and the jockey thought he was going to win. Near the eighth pole, Skywalker crowded Herat, who had little run left, and forced Eddie Delahoussaye to take up.

Stevens was visibly unhappy following the stewards' inquiry. "I told them on the phone that my horse was lugging in and I tried to keep from bothering Eddie's horse," Stevens said. "I don't know what happened to my horse once we got to within three-quarters of a length of the top pair. He got rubbery-legged and started wobbling.

"He's never lugged in before, so I don't know what happened. Maybe he bled or lost his action. He was running sideways. But the stewards' decision has been made and I'd rather not say anything more about it."

Trainer John Gosden, thwarted in a bid for his eighth stakes win of the season, may want another shot at Super Diamond with Alphabatim.

"We had to give too much weight to the winner," Gosden said. "Four pounds, that was the difference."

As far as Eddie Gregson is concerned, the difference is that this isn't the same Super Diamond. The horse who tried to eat a car at Del Mar is now resigned to gobbling up only the opposition.

Horse Racing Notes

Undefeated Phone Trick, whose first seven wins came in California, ran his winning streak to nine Sunday with a 3/4-length victory over Love That Mac in the True North Handicap at Belmont Park. Phone Trick ran six furlongs in 1:09, which was three-fifths of a second slower than the track record. Phone Trick is expected to remain in New York for at least two more races. . . . After 46 days of a 67-day meeting, Gary Stevens leads Laffit Pincay in the jockey standings, 52-50. John Gosden is the training leader with 19 wins, five more than both John Sadler and Charlie Whittingham. . . . Pat Valenzuela, returning from a five-day suspension, rode two winners Sunday.

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