There are some more races to be run, and there's many a slip between the last of March and the first of May, but if horses such as Masterful Advocate and Chart The Stars make it to Kentucky, this year's Triple Crown opener will be known as the Bargain Basement Derby.
Masterful Advocate and Chart The Stars, the pre-eminent horses who'll be running in the Santa Anita Derby on April 4, have owners who'll never be confused with the Arab sheiks, British tycoons and Greek magnates who go to Kentucky auctions in the summer with high-denomination bills sticking out of both ears.
Combined, Masterful Advocate and Chart The Stars cost $44,500. Masterful Advocate's trainer and original owner, Joe Manzi, didn't want to bid more than $4,500 for him, then got the colt by accident for $5,500. Chart The Star's owners had a budget of $35,000 when he was paraded into a sales ring at Hollywood Park a year ago, allowed their trainer to go $4,000 higher and wouldn't have bought him if someone had bid just $1,000 more.
"It's not the amount you pay for a horse that matters," says Dick Mulhall, the trainer of Chart The Stars. "My horse and Masterful Advocate are proof of that. Horses can make people look like geniuses sometimes."
On Sunday, before 44,169 at Santa Anita, Chart The Stars gave Mulhall, 47, his first major win after 25 years of training, getting through on the rail for a 3/4-length victory over the always-closing but usually short Alysheba in the $181,700 San Felipe Handicap. As a frame of reference, Alysheba cost his owners $500,000.
Finishing third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Alysheba, was Temperate Sil, the Hollywood Futurity winner who was fifth in his only other start as a 3-year-old. The track was listed as good that day, which was accepted as Temperate Sil's excuse. It was good again Sunday, but had all but dried out from Saturday's rain and trainer Charlie Whittingham, after examining the surface midway through the afternoon, felt that his colt could handle it.
"He ran better than last time," said Bill Shoemaker, Temperate Sil's jockey, not adding that anything but falling down would have been an improvement. "He tired at the end, probably because he didn't get anything out of the other race."
Running the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43, Chart The Stars earned $107,400 and as the third betting choice paid $9.80, $4.20 and $2.80. Alysheba, who now has one win, five seconds and a third in nine starts, paid $4.20 and $3.20 and Temperate Sil, the 8-5 favorite, paid $2.80.
Neither Mulhall nor Chart The Star's jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye, are guaranteeing that the horse will be in the Kentucky Derby on May 2. The son of Star de Naskra and Fair Astrologer, now a gelding, had only won a maiden race out five starts before he finished second, at 30-1, to Masterful Advocate in the San Rafael Stakes on March 7.
Masterful Advocate finished five lengths in front of Chart The Stars that day, going a mile, and considering Chart The Stars' lackluster though-winning finish Sunday, there's considerable doubt whether that much of a difference can be made up in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby.
"After we got through on the rail, and I didn't know if we'd make it for a while, I thought my horse might draw off," Delahoussaye said. "But he just ran evenly the rest of the way. I looked over at Alysheba coming and thought we were going to get beat."
Delahoussaye has a Kentucky Derby perspective, having ridden Gato Del Sol and Sunny's Halo to back-to-back wins at Churchill Downs in 1982-83, and he doesn't rank Chart The Stars' potential with either of those colts.
"He's a versatile colt and he might improve," Delahoussaye said. "But because of the way he finished, I don't have the great feeling about him that I had about the other two, especially Sunny's Halo."
Mulhall put blinkers on Chart The Stars before the San Rafael. "It's a good thing he had 'em today," Delahoussaye said Sunday. "He wouldn't have gone for the rail at all without 'em."
Something Lucky, who had led for six furlongs, gave up the lead at the top of the stretch to Temperate Sil and was blocking Chart The Star's path. Chart The Stars was in danger of clipping Something Lucky's heels and going down, but Something Lucky drifted away from the fence, giving Delahoussaye and his mount the room they needed.
Early in the race, Chart The Stars was third, not far behind Something Lucky and Temperate Sil. Alysheba, fighting jockey Pat Day much of the way, was well behind the pack. He was seventh in the eight-horse field at the start, and tried to lug in through the stretch, even though Day was whipping him left-handed.
"This horse has a lot of ability but getting him to give it to you when you want it is the problem," Day said. "He did absolutely no running the last eighth of a mile. He seems to be lacking desire. Maybe he'll change. Sometimes young 3-year-olds wake up in the morning and do that."
Chart The Stars has four owners--Mulhall's wife, Mary; Jack Arnold of Malibu; Wallis Clearman of Bradbury; and Chris Clark of Arcadia. The Mulhalls have 17.5% and the rest is split evenly among the other three partners.
Clark is a horse insurer who has written policies on about 500 horses, including Red And Blue, who finished last in the San Felipe.
The first horse Clark ever owned was a filly that Mulhall claimed for $16,000 about a year ago. That's not much less than what they paid for the San Felipe winner, but the filly was soon claimed by another trainer for $20,000. Chart The Stars has earned $165,000.
Horse Racing Notes
Dick Mulhall said that Chart The Stars will probably have to finish in the top three in the Santa Anita Derby in order to go on to Kentucky. . . . Alysheba raced on a diuretic commonly given to bleeders. Trainer Jack Van Berg said the colt had a trace of blood in his system after his previous race and also got an infection. . . . Trainer Wayne Lukas may have a better 3-year-old than either of the two he ran in the San Felipe. War finished fifth and Barb's Relic was sixth, but in the second race Sunday, Lookinforthebigone was a 4 1/2-length winner, covering six furlongs in 1:10. Lookinforthebigone didn't make his first start until a week ago, winning by a neck. Asked where Lookinforthebigone might run next, Lukas said: "Anywhere I want to." . . . Lukas is still pointing Capote toward the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on April 4 and last year's 2-year-old champion will work this morning at Hollywood Park. . . . Bet Twice was a 2 1/2-length winner Sunday over No More Flowers, with Gone West third and Leo Castelli fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. . . . Frank (Jimmy) Kilroe, vice president for racing at Santa Anita, explained why the track didn't take Saturday's Sierra Madre Handicap off the grass after heavy rain Saturday. River Drummer, the favorite, had to be destroyed after breaking down in the stretch. "The owner and trainer didn't have to run and the jockeys don't have to ride if they think it's dangerous," Kilroe said. "After last year's Santa Ana Handicap, I gave up trying to play God." A year ago, Santa Anita moved the Santa Ana from grass to dirt, infuriating Allen Paulson, who owned the grass-loving Estrapade. Paulson's horse was scratched.