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Racing at Del Mar : After Long Flight West, McCarron Doesn’t Lag Behind on Precisionist

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<i> Special to The Times </i>

If traveling to New Jersey to ride Alysheba and then returning to Del Mar to ride Precisionist Sunday took any energy out of jockey Chris McCarron, it wasn’t apparent.

McCarron talked with enthusiasm after the Del Mar feature race about a weekend in which he won the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park on Alysheba Saturday and then rode Precisionist to a 3 1/2 length victory Sunday in the $206,200 Cabrillo Handicap. McCarron wasn’t bothered by jet lag. He felt fine.

“It’s exhilarating,” he said. “It’s a little tiring, but it really doesn’t take any toll on you.”

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From across the room, a jockey yelled: “It’s a long trip home if you get beat.”

But McCarron didn’t.

Sunday’s result was expected, particularly after Epidaurus, the 6-year-old who was to give Precisionist his closest competition, scratched. Trainer Charlie Whittingham said Sunday morning he wanted to get Epidaurus into an easier spot. Considering the way Precisionist blazed across the 1 1/8-mile course on the main track, that may have been a wise decision.

Precisionist appears to be regaining the form that made him a 1985 Eclipse Award winner as a champion sprinter. After being at stud for two seasons unsuccessfully, owner Fred Hooper brought his 7-year-old horse back to the track.

Both his trainer, John Russell, and McCarron are duly impressed with his progress so far. After a rough start on June 29 at Hollywood Park, where Precisionist crossed the finish line first without McCarron, he has been a winner. On Aug. 1, he broke a 25-year-old record in an allowance race at Del Mar. Sunday he earned $121,200, finishing in 1:47 1/5 on a cloudy, fast track.

“I still don’t know if he’s back to the old Precisionist yet, but I’d have to think he’s getting close,” Russell said.

Added McCarron: “He’s close to where he was. He wanted to skip over that light from the mirror when he crossed the finish line.”

Precisionist took the lead just before the first quarter, moving to the inside rail on the clubhouse turn. He drew clear on the far turn, stretched his lead approaching the furlong marker and put the race away after the final turn. Conquering Hero closed at the wire to finish second. Circus Prince was third.

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McCarron said he took a look over his shoulder coming into the stretch and saw Speeding Light, ridden by Gary Stevens, keeping up the fast early pace. McCarron gave his horse a bit of encouragement with the whip and was never again challenged.

The last time McCarron remembers mounting horses the caliber of Precisionist and Alysheba in a short period of time was a year ago May. He rode in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Golden Gate Handicap in a matter of weeks. Currently, Precisionist and Alysheba are both pointing for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

“Precisionist comes out of the gate and he just wants to roll the whole way,” McCarron said. “Alysheba is the type of horse that wants to take his time. He doesn’t do anything until you ask him. Usually Precisionist does more than you want him to do the first part.”

Both horses, McCarron said, have different temperaments.

“Precisionist is as kind as can be,” he said. “He might nip at you a little bit, but he’d never kick at you or anything like that. If you were to try to walk in Alysheba’s stall he’d probably kill you. He’ll bite you. He’ll try to kick your head off if he can. He doesn’t want anybody messing with him.”

The biggest concern in the Precisionist camp these days if whether or not he can respond against better competition. Epidaurus was the winner in the June 29 allowance race that was unofficially won by a riderless Precisionist. With Sunday’s scratch of Epidaurus, Precisionist remains virtually untested.

“He hasn’t taken on real seasoned horses yet and beat them, but I think that’s going to come,” Russell said. “I think this was a better race for him than the mile (allowance race Aug. 1). I think he’ll get more out of it.”

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Precisionist, who has 19 wins in 40 starts, may run Sept. 10 in the Del Mar Budweiser/Breeders’ Cup, a mile run on the dirt.

Precisionist returned his backers $2.40 and $2.10. Conquering Hero paid $2.60.

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