Claim Shows He's No Claimer at Hollywood Park : Three-Year-Old Colt Wins the Opening-Day Debonair Stakes by Three Lengths

Special to The Times

Looking solely at the earnings of the seven horses entered in Wednesday's $75,000-added Debonair Stakes for 3-year-old colts at Hollywood Park, it was difficult not to spot the anomaly.

Six of the horses had a total of $369,082 in lifetime winnings.

A seventh had $821,459.

Not surprisingly, this prompted a question among the 23,099 fans who showed up on the opening day of the track's spring-summer meeting. What was Success Express doing in such comparatively lowly company?

The race provided a quick answer: He belonged there.

The Wayne Lukas-trained colt, a wire-to-wire winner in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile last Nov. 21 at Hollywood Park, was not only beaten, but beaten decisively on a gray, drab afternoon.

The Debonair was won, instead, by Claiborne Farm's Claim, unbeaten now in his three starts. Ridden by Aaron Gryder, the Willard Proctor-trained son of Mr. Prospector and Santiago Lassie covered the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22 1/5, winning by 3 lengths.

Finishing second was Prospectors Gamble, with Chris McCarron aboard. Alex Solis brought Dr. Brent home third, another 5 lengths behind.

Claim, allowed to go off at a surprising 9 to 1, rewarded his backers with payoffs of $20.80, $7.40 and $4.20. Prospectors Gamble paid $4.80 and $3.20, and Dr. Brent paid $4.20 to show.

The race set up just the way he expected it to, Gryder said. Success Express found himself in a backstretch duel with Secret Meeting, ridden by Laffit Pincay, and Accomplish Ridge, with Rafael Meza aboard. By the time they reached the stretch, Success Express had nothing left.

"He just got fried on the front end, that's all," said his rider, Gary Stevens. "He just got tired with me for going too fast. He's so competitive, though. I tried to get him to relax off Laffit, and he just kept sticking his nose out until he got in front, and right there I'm out of horse."

With Success Express fading, Gryder was able to bring Claim through for a comfortable victory.

"I couldn't believe (Claim's starting odds)," Gryder said. "He was 2 for 2 and he hadn't run in a stakes race but he beat Aloha Prospector, (who) came back to win a couple of stakes impressively.

"He's an awful nice horse. I had confidence in him."

The victory was the 17-year-old Gryder's first in a stake since moving from apprentice to journeyman status.

"It's real important, especially on opening day," he said. "Every meet, you have to prove yourself over again, and with me just losing the bug, I wanted to get a good start.

"It couldn't have been any better."

The same could not be said for Success Express, whose fourth-place finish left him 8 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

After the colt's win in the Breeders' Cup, both owner Eugene Klein and Lukas had expressed high hopes for the son of Hold Your Peace and Au Printemps.

"The best 2-year-old in the country," was how Klein put it.

"He has the dosage and the numbers to be a (Kentucky) Derby horse," said Lukas.

Those fond imaginings evaporated in the light of Success Express' subsequent performances, however. Going into Wednesday's race, the colt had run five times since the Breeders' Cup without a victory.

In the Hollywood Futurity Dec. 20, he finished sixth, 11 lengths behind the winner. Five weeks later in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, he managed a third-place finish but was still 9 1/2 lengths short.

A change of rider from Jose Santos to Pincay in the San Rafael Stakes Feb. 27, also at Santa Anita, resulted in another third, this time by a neck. Santos came back on board, but all Success Express could manage was a second in the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct March 26 and a fourth in the Gotham Stakes at the same track April 9.

Wednesday, his luck was expected to change. Obviously, it did not.

Hollywood Park Notes

The meeting got off to an eventful start for Gary Stevens, the national leader in races and purses won. Stevens won the third and fifth races, took second in the fourth and was unseated in the seventh when favorite Vysotsky decided to go it alone. "I was just in tight and my horse kind of shied," said Stevens, who was not injured. "Luckily it was on the turf. The turf's good, by the way. It has good bounce." . . . Sharing this view on the oft-maligned but now refurbished turf course was Fernando Toro. "Right now, it's just right," he said.

The first winners of the meeting were owner Robert Maycock, trainer Hector Palma and apprentice James Corral, who teamed to win the first race with Rimmou, who was then claimed by Steven Miyadi. . . . With free grandstand admission as part of the track's 50th anniversary celebration, Wednesday's crowd was surprisingly small. The mutuel handle, including the amount bet off-track, amounted to a record for opening day, $5,285,396. . . . New track announcer Bine Masters, hired just Tuesday, got off to a rocky start, startling fans with such phrases as it could be and looks like, while trying to identify horses during his calls of the early races. Jockey Ray Sibille--pronounced Sa-BEEL--was not thrilled with the way his name came out, either. Masters pronounced it Sybil. "I called him up and told him my name was Ray," Sibille joked.

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