Fans have always been fickle, and they keep proving it. On Saturday at Hollywood Park, after favored Fran's Valentine and Bill Shoemaker finished fourth in the Silver Belles Handicap, there were cries of "Hey, Shoe, why don't you quit?"
Twenty-four hours later, after Sunday's $500,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, the chants turned to "Way to go, Shoe!" after the 55-year-old jockey rode 9-1 longshot Alphabatim to victory by a head over Dahar in front of 27,192 fans.
While the win was Shoemaker's first in the 6-year-old stake, in other areas Alphabatim's victory was a multiple reprise. This was the 5-year-old bay's second Turf Cup win, the first having coming in 1984, and trainer John Gosden might force Hollywood Park to rename the race, since he's now won it three straight times, sandwiching last year's victory by Zoffany around Alphabatim's double.
Alphabatim, running 1 1/2 miles in 2:25 4/5 on a wet course that was still considered firm, paid $21.80, $10.20 and $3.40, and it was easy to see why. He ran only once in 1985 because of a sore left front foot, and an injury to the same foot but in a different area compromised this year's performance, which consisted of just one win in nine starts before Sunday.
In fact, Alphabatim's victory, worth $275,000 to his owner, Saudi Arabian Prince Khaled Abdullah, was the horse's first on the grass since his Turf Cup score in 1984. Alphabatim was no better than third in four grass starts during the interim.
Alphabatim, increasing his career earnings to $1.3 million, was a $23,000 yearling purchase in 1982. Bred at Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky, through a mating of Verbatim and Morning Games, Alphabatim has run his last race and will be sent back to Elmendorf to begin a stud career early next year.
Dahar, who will also be going to Kentucky for stud duty, finished second in a four-horse scramble at the wire, a neck better than Theatrical, who had a half-length on fourth-place Zoffany. Skywalker, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic in his last start but a relative newcomer to grass, stayed close to Theatrical's pace most of the way, took a brief lead at the top of the stretch and then wound up fifth, with Laffit Pincay dropping his whip inside the sixteenth pole.
Estrapade, the only female in the race and favored while running as an entry with Theatrical, seemed to have a bead on Skywalker heading for home, but flattened out to finish sixth in the eight-horse field.
Dahar paid $11.00 and $4.00. Theatrical's show payoff was $2.20.
With Eddie Delahoussaye riding Zoffany, Gosden needed a rider for Alphabatim and was only able to secure Shoemaker's services after trainer Charlie Whittingham decided not to run Louis Le Grand along with his Dahar and Estrapade.
"If Louis Le Grand runs in the race, I would have ridden him," Shoemaker said. "Charlie didn't make up his mind about not running until the last minute, and John (Gosden) was willing to wait and see. It was nice of him to do that."
Shoemaker added to the records that are firm in his grip--it was his 8,615th win, his 960th in a stake and his 228th in a $100,000 race.
The last time he saw Alphabatim was on the dirt in July, when they finished second to Super Diamond in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
"He might have been the best that day," Shoemaker said. "He doesn't like to run on the inside--maybe he's too smart in that respect. But that's where we were that day, running good on the rail, but then suddenly he sucked back on me."
Knowing Alphabatim's dislike, Shoemaker had him wide going down the backstretch in the Turf Cup, within striking distance even though four horses were in front of him. On the turn for home, they were still wide, but closer to the leaders and gaining ground with steady strides. Shoemaker struck Alphabatim several times with a left-handed whip and they just did edge Dahar.
Gosden pointed out that, except for the wasted year of 1985, Alphabatim has won major races every year of his career, starting as a 2 year old in England and then the Turf Cups at 3 and 5.
"He's been a frustrating horse to train because you knew he was a good horse, but those foot problems kept getting in the way," Gosden said. "I was getting him ready to run in the Hollywood Invitational (on the dirt last May), because I thought he could handle Flying Pidgeon (the winner of the race) and some of the others. But then on the morning of a prep race, he bruised the foot and was dead lame."
When Gosden got Alphabatim ready to run again a month later, he produced two straight seconds against Super Diamond. A longshot in the Arlington Million, he not only ran 12th, but also was involved in a bumping incident with stablemate Zoffany that took more of a toll on the other horse.
After a fourth as the favorite in a small stake at Bay Meadows, Gosden put blinkers on Alphabatim for his fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Skywalker won that stake, of course, but Sunday's race was only his second on grass, a surface that Alphabatim usually runs on. That, together with Gosden's general magic in the Turf Cup, was too much for all of them to overcome. The race could well be called the John Gosden Testimonial by next year.
Horse Racing Notes
Another stake on Sunday's program, the Bold Forbes, couldn't have been won by a more appropriate trainer. Laz Barrera's Late Request won the Bold Forbes, which was named after the horse Barrera trained to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont in 1976. . . . Bill Shoemaker, who had risen to 10th in recent national jockey standings, has moved past the $6 million mark in purses this year. He's done it with fewer than 110 winners and less than 700 mounts. The jockeys ahead of him on the list have at least 156 winners and a minimum of 1,100 mounts. . . . Family Style, whose earnings reached $1.2 million with her win in Saturday's Silver Belles Handicap, was a $60,000 yearling purchase by Gene Klein. . . . Other horses headed for stud next year include Palace Music and Herat. Allen Paulson recently bought a 50% interest in Herat from John Franks, and the horse will stand at Paulson's farm in Kentucky. Herat earned $770,000 on the track, more than any other offspring of Northern Dancer. . . . John Gosden felt that Zoffany's chances were dashed by being so far back early in the Turf Cup. "He must have been 20 lengths behind," the trainer said. "You can't spot that much ground to horses this good." . . . Zoffany still went over the $1 million mark in purses with the $37,500 he earned for fourth place.