On the Line Finishes on Time to Win Handicap : Mark Chip Can’t Catch Finicky Horse Ridden by Gary Stevens in San Pasqual

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Gulch and On the Line were two short-winded horses caught in the 1 1/4-mile draft of the 1987 Kentucky Derby.

After finishing sixth in the Derby, Gulch later looked more suited in winning a 6-furlong Breeders’ Cup race in 1988, and clinched the national sprint championship.

Wayne Lukas, who trained Gulch to win that title, envisions a similar path for On the Line, who was 10th in the Derby after leading the race for three-quarters of a mile.

On Sunday at Santa Anita, On the Line was extended just about as far as he’s likely to go, and the 5-year-old chestnut responded by beating Mark Chip by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual Handicap before a crowd of 34,894.


More than Mark Chip, though, On the Line had himself to worry about. He pouted as he was led into the gate, stumbled and cut himself on his right front leg in his first step after the start and forced Gary Stevens to ride him all the way around with a saddle that was off-center.

Mark Chip ran his best race, according to his trainer, John Sadler, but the 6-year-old with Chris McCarron aboard still couldn’t catch On the Line through the stretch after hounding the winner from the start.

The other four starters in the $160,800 stake never challenged. Mark Chip finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Stylish Winner, the third-place finisher, and it was another 5 lengths back to He’s a Saros in fourth. Forlitano, who went off the 4-1 second choice to On the Line, ran fifth in a rare dirt appearance after running into a squeeze at the three-eighths pole. The stewards made an inquiry into the incident, which also involved He’s a Saros and Stylish Winner, but made no change in the order of finish.

On the Line, timed in 1 minute 41 seconds, which was four-fifths of a second off the track record, earned $93,300 for owner Gene Klein, who celebrated his 68th birthday elsewhere. The winner paid $3.20, $2.40 and $2.20. Mark Chip paid $3.80 and $2.80 and Stylish Winner, ridden by Corey Black, paid $3.

On the Line, who runs with a pin in one of his legs because of a fractured shin that he suffered last February, has won 4 out of 5 starts since returning.

The son of Mehmet was a handful for Stevens from the time they came on to the track.

“He wasn’t sharp mentally,” Stevens said. “He was sulky, he didn’t load right, he wouldn’t look straight ahead, up the track. Usually, he’s a dream in the gate, but he’s got a temperament and wants his own way.

“When one of the handlers (assistant starters) grabbed him by the ear in the gate, he rebelled. So his feet were where they weren’t supposed to be and he was standing cockeyed when the gate opened.”

Lukas, a sharp critic of the Santa Anita track earlier in the meeting, felt the main track has been better lately than it has been all season, but the extra sand, combined with On the Line’s contrariness, combined for an awkward break. Stevens had ridden a horse for trainer Laz Barrera earlier in the week, and he did the same thing, kicking himself at the start and coming back bleeding from the leg.

The difference was, On the Line won.

“This was a big feat for this horse, because that last race (when On the Line was overtaken by Cherokee Colony in the stretch) had to have taken its toll,” Stevens said. “That first step, he went to his left and his left shoulder dipped down. That accounted for the saddle slipping, and it was uncomfortable for me after that.”

Stevens kept trying to shake his only serious pursuer, Mark Chip.

“The first part of the second quarter (of a mile), I tried to scoot away,” Stevens said. “But I peeked under my arm, and Chris’ horse was right with me. Then I tried to make another move at the three-eighths pole, figuring I’d leave the other horse in the dust, but he was still there, like a shadow.”

On the Line led by a length and a half at the eighth pole, with Mark Chip almost closing the gap by the time they reached the wire.

“I started getting to the other horse, but I couldn’t get by him,” McCarron said. “Everything worked out perfectly except the finish.”

One of the Santa Anita races Lukas is considering for On the Line is the 5 1/2-furlong El Conejo Handicap Feb. 11.

“It’s easier to shorten up a horse (in distance) than to stretch him out,” Lukas said. “My goal is to make a good miler out of him--that’s what will improve his breeding value.”

Races under consideration later are the 7-furlong Carter Handicap and the Metropolitan Mile, both in New York. Funny that Lukas would think of those stakes. Gulch won them both last year.

Horse Racing Notes

Trainer Wayne Lukas said that Is It True and Houston are both at Santa Anita. Is It True, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, has recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery and is scheduled to start serious training about Feb. 15. Houston, undefeated in 2 starts and another Kentucky Derby candidate, is scheduled to begin working even sooner.

Major stakes for 4-year-olds are expected to draw large fields next weekend. The La Canada, for fillies, is Saturday and Goodbye Halo, No Review, T.V. of Crystal, Savannah’s Honor, Variety Baby, Angelina Ballerina, Seattle Smooth and Forewarning may run. . . . The Strub, for colts, will be run Sunday and figures to include Cherokee Colony, Speedratic, Mi Preferido, Perceive Arrogance, Silver Circus, Dynaformer, Undercut, No Can Lose, Nasr el Arab and Prove Splendid.

Saratoga Passage, who won the Norfolk as a 2-year-old and then was injured while preparing for last year’s Santa Anita Derby, gets back to the races in an allowance Wednesday. . . . The Santa Ynez Stakes that day, for 3-year-old fillies, includes Lady Lister, Fantastic Look, Bubbling Maxi, Seaquay, Hot Novel and the Gene Klein-owned entry of Some Romance and Agotaras. Laffit Pincay will try to use Agotaras--Saratoga spelled backward--for his sixth straight Wednesday stakes victory.