Weekend Racing at Del Mar : Great Communicator Tries Again

Times Staff Writer

When Great Communicator runs Monday in the $300,000 Del Mar Invitational Handicap, it will be the second labor-day appearance for the 5-year-old gelding in 2 weeks.

Monday is the national Labor Day holiday, but Great Communicator also did some laboring--about 1 miles of it--when he ran poorly in the Arlington Million at Woodbine on Aug. 20.

With four wins--including the San Juan Capistrano and two other stakes at Santa Anita--a second and a third in six previous starts this year, Great Communicator was the third betting choice in the Million. That was a legitimate position, because the consistent Great Communicator was well-rested and looked like a horse who would enjoy the firm footing at Woodbine, a course that did not expect to help favored Triptych, a mare with suspect feet.

As it turned out, Triptych didn’t run well, finishing 10th in a 14-horse field, and Great Communicator didn’t do much better. Trainer Thad Ackel’s horse was close to the leaders for half of the race, but apparently this was an illusion and he wound up 7th, more than six lengths behind Mill Native, the longshot winner.


Great Communicator seldom runs bad races, but this was one. You had to go back to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Stakes at Hollywood Park last November to find a poorer performance on his part. Great Communicator ran 12th that day, beating only two horses, in a performance that Ackel partly attributed to a tentative ride by Angel Cordero.

Ray Sibille, like Ackel a transplanted Cajun, assumed the mount right after the Breeders’ Cup and he’s been aboard for all of Great Communicator’s races since then. What made the Million so uncharacteristic was that even in defeat this year, Great Communicator has been competitive--he lost to Political Ambition by only a neck while finishing in a dead-heat for third in the Hollywood Invitational, and Rivlia had to run him down in the stretch in the San Luis Rey.

Ackel says Great Communicator came out of the Million as though he hadn’t even run in a race. The trainer feels that a delay in the paddock, which restricted the warm-up time of all the horses, could have hurt his horse at Woodbine.

“The horse didn’t run a lick,” Sibille said. “As soon as we got out of the gate, I knew we were in trouble.”


Mill Native is on the grounds at Del Mar, the French-based colt now in the care of Charlie Whittingham, but a rematch with Great Communicator will have to wait until the Oak Tree season at Santa Anita. Whittingham will fire two other bullets Monday--Swink, who won this stake last year, and Rivlia.

Based on recent form, neither of those runners is at the top of the weights. That distinction goes to Sir Harry Lewis, with 121 pounds, followed by Great Communicator at 120 and Rivlia at 119. Other weights for those expected to run are Swink, 117 pounds; Putting, 116; Baba Karam and Pay the Butler, both at 115; and Sword Dance and Santella Mac, 114 apiece.

Sir Harry Lewis is one of several grass horses that could give trainer Wayne Lukas’ deep, far-flung operation another dimension at the end of the year. When Sir Harry Lewis, the winner of last year’s Irish Derby, first joined Lukas this summer, the objective was the Arlington Million. Not considered ready for that race, Sir Harry Lewis ran instead in an allowance at Del Mar the day before, and if Lukas could have extrapolated that performance with the races the Million runners turned in at Woodbine, the 4-year-old son of Alleged would have been close to the long green.

Another factor Monday will be the light-weighted Sword Dance. In just his second American start, at Del Mar Aug. 13, the 4-year-old son of Nijinsky II was an easy winner, bringing a smile to the face of Chris McCarron. The jockey probably wore a bigger smile after riding Forty Niner and Alysheba later in the month, but Sword Dance is the kind of horse who could be just as prominent.


Horse Racing Notes

The $300,000 purse for the Del Mar Handicap is the largest listed at the track this season, but because of owners’ fees, the Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Sept. 14, may wind up being a richer race. . . . Santella Mac has a habit of running second at Del Mar. He was second in last year’s Del Mar Handicap and has been second in the last two runnings of the Eddie Read Handicap. . . . Chris McCarron, besides joining Laffit Pincay, Angel Cordero, Bill Shoemaker and Jorge Velasquez as the only jockeys with $100 million in career purses, has the kind of numbers this year that resemble Shoemaker’s in recent seasons. That is, making a relatively few number of mounts go a long way. McCarron, fourth nationally on the Daily Racing Form’s money list with $7.7 million, is averaging almost $10,600 per mount. Gary Stevens, who has ridden in about 500 more races than McCarron, leads nationally with $9.3 million and is averaging $7,700 per mount.

Roi Normand, fifth in the Arlington Million, is headed for the Woodward Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 17. . . . Instead of the Woodward, Precisionist will run in the one-mile Del Mar Budweiser Breeders’ Cup a week from today. . . . Eight 2-year-old fillies are entered in Sunday’s one-mile, $200,000 Del Mar Debutante. In post-position order, they are One Lucky Baby, Antonio Castanon riding; Duchess Greg, Russell Baze; Approved To Fly, Alex Solis; One of a Klein, Chris McCarron; Formidable Lady, Eddie Delahoussaye; Executive Row, Aaron Gryder; Lea Lucinda, Gary Stevens; and Beware of the Cat, Ray Sibille. All carry 114 pounds except Executive Row, who will run with 118. Beware of the Cat, injured when she was a yearling, has only one eye. . . . Ieron, who won over a good allowance field last Monday and paid $136, runs today in the Escondido Handicap.