Blake Heap was almost speechless, even seven hours after Zany Tactics--the best horse that he had ever trained--died on the track at Santa Anita Friday morning.
There was a series of one-word answers to several trite questions, and then finally the 31-year-old Heap said: "The horse got off easy. I'm the one that's got to live with his loss."
The seven-year-old life of Zany Tactics ended in a place that he usually reached sooner than any of the other horses he raced--at the finish line. After a five-furlong workout, Zany Tactics was heading back to the barn with exercise rider Alan Patterson still on his back and Heap alongside on his pony.
Patterson was telling Heap how good Zany Tactics felt underneath him when the cheaply bred gelding stumbled a couple of times and hunched. Then he flipped and rolled, stopping near the outside rail. Later, it would be explained that he died because of a ruptured blood vessel.
Zany Tactics, who was not insured, was to leave in a few days for Turf Paradise and the Phoenix Gold Cup, the six-furlong race that he won last year in the world-record time of 1:06 4/5. In 1986, Zany Tactics ran six furlongs on grass at Hollywood Park in 1:07 2/5 to set an American record.
"He had a big heart," Heap said. The son of a trainer, Heap has done almost everything around a race track--helped his father, worked on the starting-gate crew, booked mounts for jockeys--and Zany Tactics was his first stakes winner.
No one could get Zany Tactics to run until he was a 4-year-old. He was sore-legged and stubborn, and Heap's father, who didn't work in the summers, turned the horse over to his son at Turf Paradise.
Zany Tactics had five wins and three seconds in eight starts in 1985. His final record was 15 wins in 34 starts, with purses of almost $600,000.
The California-bred son of Zanthe and Escort's Lady, who are both dead, Zany Tactics was raced by Vera and Don Brunette, a retired teacher and a builder-developer from Murietta, Calif.
The Brunettes bought Zany Tactics when he was a 2-year-old for $6,000. A year later, the horse still hadn't run, and the owners couldn't even get $5,000 for him.
Cowboy Jack Kaenel rode Zany Tactics in most of his races, including the two record-breaking times. "He's an amazing animal," Kaenel once said. "He's not a good work horse, but he runs his eyeballs out in the afternoon. He loafs when he gets to the lead."
Zany Tactics didn't loaf in last year's Phoenix Gold Cup. Kaenel never used his whip as the world record was broken by two-fifths of a second.
"He's a poor man's John Henry," Don Brunette once called Zany Tactics.
One thing Zany Tactics couldn't do was run well when the spotlight was the brightest. He was sent to Aqueduct last spring, but bled from the lungs in both New York starts and settled for a fourth and a third.
After Zany Tactics won the Ancient Title Handicap at Santa Anita last November, the Brunettes debated whether to run him in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park two weeks later. Because the horse hadn't been nominated, it would cost the owners $120,000 to run.
With a chance to run against Groovy, who had been undefeated all year, the Brunettes paid the money, but Zany Tactics inexplicably finished ninth in a 13-horse field.
There were only two starts after that, neither of them victories, with Zany Tactics dying on the track where he won his last race. Heap made the toughest call of his life when he phoned the Brunettes with the sad news.
"They didn't take it too good," Heap said. But no one took it harder than the young trainer who may go a long time before he has another horse who will come close to this one.
It might not be in the best interest of a horse to win the San Rafael Stakes. The one-mile Santa Anita race for 3-year-olds, which will be run today for the eighth time, has been won by four horses--Johnlee n' Harold, Prince Spellbound, Precisionist and Masterful Advocate--who finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, and a San Rafael winner has never won the Santa Anita Derby.
Nevertheless, trainer Laz Barrera would like to extend his colt's unbeaten streak to four races when he saddles Mi Preferido against eight opponents today. No Commitment and Success Express, who couldn't beat Mi Preferido in the seven-furlong San Vicente on Jan. 27, will try again in the San Rafael.
Horse Racing Notes
Sixteen horses were entered, but only 12--based on highest weights assigned--will be allowed to run Sunday in the $100,000 Arcadia Handicap, a mile turf race, at Santa Anita. Carrying top weight is Vilzak, winner of the Hollywood Turf Cup in his last start on Dec. 13, with 120 pounds. The rest of the field consists of The Medic, Will Dancer, Mohamed Abdu, Loud Appeal, Sabona, Captain Vigors, Santella Mac, Truce Maker, The Scout, High Brite and Exclusive Partner. On the also-eligible list are Conquering Hero, Chart the Stars, Chinoiserie and Havildar. . . . At Gulfstream Park today, By Land by Sea, a Santa Anita shipper, carries 118 pounds, two less than top-weighted Queen Alexandra, in the $150,000 Rampart Handicap. . . . The owners of Pevikson, who finished second in a race on Feb. 18 but was disqualified for interference, have appealed the stewards' decision to the California Horse Racing Board. It is a rarity when a racing jurisdiction over-rules its stewards.