Trainer George Scott sent two horses to the post in Sunday's $100,000-added Grade I Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Both were bay mares, both were owned by Allen Paulson and both had a clear-cut assignment: Trudie Domino was to set the pace and Northern Aspen was to win the race.
They followed the script to perfection.
Frank Olivares took Trudie Domino to the front right away, with Gary Stevens positioning Northern Aspen close behind. The rest of the six-horse field was left to fend for itself.
By the time they turned for home, the race belonged to Northern Aspen. She reached the wire 4 1/2 lengths in front of Reloy, ridden by Bill Shoemaker. Frau Altiva and jockey Ray Sibille were another 6 1/2 lengths behind in third.
It was less of a race and more of a parade, so spread was the field.
The 5-year-old daughter of Northern Dancer and Fall Aspen, bred in Kentucky at Spendthrift Farm, covered the mile on the turf in a modest 1:47 3/5, a full two seconds shy of the course record set by Zoffany last year.
But the pace proved perfect for Stevens, who grinned afterward when asked if Trudie Domino had been meant to play the rabbit.
"She was to insure an honest pace," Stevens said.
Northern Aspen, meanwhile, looked a much-improved horse after finishing second to Reloy in both the Santa Ana and Santa Barbara handicaps in her last two outings.
"She was a different filly today," Stevens said. "George (Scott) gave her that time off and she put on about 125 pounds. I worked her a mile on the 15th and she flew the last quarter of a mile. She relaxed good that day and she just absolutely flew the last quarter.
"I knew that if she came into the race like she worked that day, she couldn't be beat.
"She didn't have the acceleration in her last two races that she had today or in her first out in the United States (when she beat Reloy in her American debut after having been raced in England and France). The thing that makes her nice is she's able to accelerate and then level out at the speed that she's at. And then she just keeps hitting gears for you."
While the pace was fine for Northern Aspen, it didn't help anyone else. Reloy stayed in touch with the leaders, but when Trudie Domino dropped back, Shoemaker didn't have enough horse left to catch the winner even though Reloy far outdistanced the rest.
Sibille and Frau Altiva, after trailing early on, got up for third, but Fernando Toro, aboard the highly rated Irish filly, Galunpe, never could get her going and had to settle for fourth. But it was not the pace that Toro afterward criticized but the condition of the course.
"She wasn't too happy about the turf course," Toro said. "It was too soft. She bobbled bad on the (far) turn and that was it. She lost a little bit of her action and mentally (she wanted) no more.
"That (the course condition) was the main excuse for her. Gary's horse was very impressive, but my filly can run better than that. She just lost all interest right after she bobbled."
Stevens, meanwhile, said the grass course caused the winner no trouble.
"Well, I know the turf course is real chewed up from yesterday," he said. "I rode a big horse yesterday, Persevered (who finished third in Saturday's Will Rogers Handicap), and he had a hard time handling it.
"I think it gave my filly (Northern Aspen) a definite advantage because she's not very big. She's got small feet and she bounced right through it. She handled it really fine, she didn't bobble one time."
So impressed was Scott, in fact, that he said he is considering pointing Northern Aspen toward the Arlington Million.
Sent off as the third choice by the crowd of 28,541, Northern Aspen, whose win more than doubled her career earnings, paid $8.40, $3.60 and $2.60; Reloy paid $3.20 and $2.60, while Frau Altiva paid $4.20.
Horse Racing Notes
Marge Everett, Hollywood Park's chairman and chief operating officer, said Sunday she remains "mystified" at the poor condition of the track's grass course. A combination of treatment error and uncooperative weather has left the course bare and brown in spots despite the application of chemicals, fertilization, hydro-seeding and the like. "It's weird," Everett said. "I almost collapsed when I saw what was going on. This is a total embarrassment to me. I bet we've spent $100,000 between the end of the last meeting and now trying to do the right thing (to prepare the course). This was really just bad luck. I don't think in any way it was neglect on our part. It was just unfortunate circumstance." . . . Jockey Laffit Pincay increased his lead in the standings with a hat trick on Sunday. Pincay brought his win total for the meeting to 30 by taking the third, fourth and seventh races. . . . The $200,000-added Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, the feature race on today's Memorial Day card at Hollywood Park, has attracted a field of seven, headed by Judge Angelucci, who is undefeated in three starts this year. Winner of the San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita his last time out, Judge Angelucci and jockey Bill Shoemaker have drawn the No. 5 post for the mile race on the main track. The competitive field also includes the Laz Barrera-trained Launch A Pegasus, winner of February's Grade I Widener Handicap; Sabona and Zabaleta, both trained by John Gosden; Fred W. Hooper's Metronomic; millionaire Nostalgia's Star, and Grecian Wonder. . . . Rivlia, trained by Charlie Whittingham and ridden by Chris McCarron, scored a neck victory over Air Display Sunday in the 41st running of the $300,000 Golden Gate Handicap at Golden Gate Fields. Rivlia, carrying 116 pounds, covered the 1 3/8 miles in 2:14 1/5 and paid $8.00, $4.40 and $3.20. Air Display returned $5.80 and $4.40. Reco, who finished another six lengths back, paid $3.20 to show. It was the second Golden Gate Handicap victory for McCarron, who won aboard John Henry in 1984.