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Horse Racing / Bill Christine : Who Knows, Leo Castelli’s Next Race Might Easily Be a Masterpiece

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran a long story about 79-year-old Leo Castelli, whose influential art gallery has popularized contemporary artists.

That newspaper and others may soon be devoting considerable space to another Leo Castelli, the 3-year-old who is emerging as one of the leading Kentucky Derby candidates now training in Florida.

The colt is named after the art connoisseur, who is a friend of Peter Brant, the Connecticut sportsman and art collector who runs a large racing stable and breeding operation.

Brant bred and owns Gulch, who, until he came to California late last year, was undefeated and considered the premier 2-year-old in the country. Gulch ran two dull races at Santa Anita, however, losing both times to the eventual division champion, Capote, and his trainer, LeRoy Jolley, is bringing him along slowly this winter at Hialeah.

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The other day, when a newsman asked Jolley about Gulch’s progress, all the trainer wanted to talk about was Leo Castelli.

Jolley’s budding star is not a work of art yet, but there have been so few accomplishments by the 3-year-old set in Florida that already some observers are saluting Leo Castelli. Art Grace of the Miami News, admitting that he isn’t right very often, has nevertheless predicted that Leo Castelli will win the Kentucky Derby.

All of this hullabaloo is about a horse who has run only three races. In a maiden race last July at Belmont Park, Leo Castelli finished second and then suffered recurring shin problems that sidelined him until this winter.

At Hialeah in January, Leo Castelli won a maiden race at seven furlongs by 7 1/2 lengths. On Feb. 2, in a 1 1/8-mile allowance, Leo Castelli again won by 7 1/2, with jockey Jean Cruguet being little more than a passenger. The time was not fast, but times haven’t been useful all season at Hialeah, where the track will play fast one day and be like oatmeal the next.

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Leo Castelli is a son of Sovereign Dancer, out of the Raise a Native mare, Suspicious Native. Brant bought Leo Castelli at auction for $45,000, a price that would have been much higher had the sale been before Meadowlake’s 8 3/4-length win in the Arlington-Washington Futurity a couple of months later. Meadowlake was also foaled by Suspicious Native.

Leo Castelli is scheduled to make his first stakes appearance in the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Feb. 28. A win then and he’ll get better play than his namesake does in the art sections of the papers.

Trainer Vivian Pulliam isn’t sure which race will be next for Schiller, her 5-year-old gelding. It probably doesn’t make any difference because Schiller is not likely to win, but he’s almost certain to earn a paycheck.

By finishing second and third seven times each, Schiller has earned more than $250,000, even though he has won only 3 of 36 starts.

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In Monday’s San Luis Obispo Handicap, Schiller turned in his 19th straight non-winning performance, but his third-place finish still was good for a purse of $22,500.

Schiller hasn’t won a race since opening day at Santa Anita in December of 1985. He had won at Hollywood Park earlier that month, and his only other win was against maidens at Del Mar the previous July, in his ninth start.

Schiller has never won a stakes race, but has been third in the Arcadia Handicap, fourth in the San Luis Rey and second in the Burke Handicap at Santa Anita, and second in the Del Mar Invitational.

“He usually gets into trouble in his races,” Pulliam said. “Monday’s race was probably his least troublesome. But he just keeps running. He had a minor problem as a 2-year-old, but he’s never been away from the track ever since. He comes out of his races as though he’s never even run.”

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Narghile finished last in Monday’s San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita, but he’s been a problem for trainer John Russell even when he’s won.

Narghile’s win in the $100,000 Turf Paradise Handicap in Phoenix Feb. 1 is being appealed by Hoss Inman, the trainer of Sir Naskra, the second-place finisher. Inman claims that Narghile ran with illegal shoes.

“He doesn’t have a shot of winning that, but the $72,000 winner’s share of the purse is still being held up and I’ll probably have to go back there for a hearing,” Russell said.

“The track’s blacksmith, the stewards and the racing secretary all say there was nothing wrong with the shoes the horse wore.

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“But you have to know Inman. He’s the kind of guy who’d try to shut off his grandmother in a bicycle race.”

When Santa Anita’s track turned muddy last weekend, several trainers had to decide about running in stakes races. Eight horses were eventually scratched.

“It’s one of the toughest things a trainer has to do, making up his mind whether to scratch or not,” trainer Laz Barrera said. “Sometimes you get pressure from everywhere to run.”

A trainer could hardly be subjected to more pressure than Barrera was for the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park in 1979. Affirmed, winner of the Triple Crown the year before, was scheduled to meet Spectacular Bid, that year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.

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Affirmed, who had won the Hollywood Gold Cup while carrying 132 pounds in June, was assigned 133 pounds for the Marlboro, nine more than Spectacular Bid.

Barrera balked at running. The track and the cigarette company that was showing the race on national television needed Affirmed as a draw and even Affirmed’s owner, Louis Wolfson, was not opposed to running.

But Barrera held his ground and Wolfson went with his trainer’s decision. There was no one else to challenge Spectacular Bid and he won by five lengths.

A couple of weeks later, the two standouts met in the weight-for-age Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Affirmed, under 126 pounds, beat Spectacular Bid and his 121 pounds by three-fourths of a length. Affirmed was later voted horse of the year.

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“If you lose under a lot of weight, people at the time may say that the weight beat you,” Barrera said. “But when they vote for horse of the year, nobody remembers the weight. All they remember is that you lost.”

Horse Racing Notes

Gold Coast Express, a 3-year-old gelding who finished first 8 times and was second twice in 10 starts, has been voted world champion (horse of the year) quarter horse for 1986. The American Quarter Horse Assn. doesn’t announce the vote, but Cash Rate, who won the award in 1985, finished second. Cash Rate, who broke even in two meetings with Gold Coast Express last year, died last month after complications following knee surgery. Gold Coast Express, who beat Cash Rate in the Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos, is owned by Bill and Louella Mitchell and trained by Bob Baffert. . . . Only three 3-year-old fillies--Devils Bride, Saros Brig and Timely Assertion--may oppose undefeated Very Subtle Saturday in the $100,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita. . . . On Sunday, a field of 11 is possible for the $200,000 San Antonio Handicap, with Bedside Promise and Al Mamoon high-weighted at 121 pounds apiece. Bobby Martin, Bedside Promise’s trainer, indicates that his horse probably won’t run in the Santa Anita Handicap regardless of his performance Sunday. . . . Zoffany, second to Louis Le Grand in the San Luis Obispo Handicap Monday, will be sent to Australia for the breeding season that starts in August. Because of quarantine regulations for stallions in Australia, Zoffany’s racing career will have to end by late May.


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