The losers usually cry, but on Sunday it was Barry Irwin, one of the owners of Martial Law, who was sobbing after his 4-year-old colt, a 50-1 longshot in a crowd of 58,240, became the second most improbable winner in the 52-year history of the Santa Anita Handicap.
The red-eyed Irwin, his legs considerably more rubbery than his horse’s, needed the support of his wife, Becky, to go from the winner’s circle to the champagne toasts in the director’s room.
Martial Law, a Pennsylvania-bred, English-raced horse who had not run on dirt until five weeks ago, overhauled a tiring Triteamtri in the last eighth of a mile for a 1 3/4-length victory in the $1-million Big ‘Cap. The first three horses across the wire were the three longest prices on the board in the 11-horse field, with Triteamtri, at 40-1, hanging on for second by a head over Stylish Winner, an 80-1 shot.
Nasr el Arab, the 17-10 favorite, apparently couldn’t adjust to the ungiving Santa Anita main track and finished eighth. Cherokee Colony, the second choice, ran sixth with no excuses and Super Diamond, the sentimental favorite who was trying to become the first 9-year-old to win the race, wound up last after staying in contention for the first six furlongs.
Martial Law, paying $103.60, $30.60 and $11.80, delivered a win price that was topped only by Bay View, a $116.40 shocker in the 1941 Big ‘Cap. Triteamtri’s prices were $29.80 and $17 and Stylish Winner paid $14.
Running 1 1/4 miles in 1:58 4/5, Martial Law missed Affirmed’s stakes record, set in 1979, by only a fifth of a second. Martial Law also became only the second of 15 supplemental entries--after Prince Dantan in 1974--to ever win the Big ‘Cap. Somehow, Jamie Schloss, the president of the 19-member Clover Racing Stable that races Martial Law, was able to get a consensus to agree to put up the $25,000 penalty that had to be paid because the horse was not nominated.
Martin Pedroza, Martial Law’s 23-year-old Panamanian jockey, didn’t have a vote, but he did have influence. Pedroza rode Martial Law in his first American start in late January. After that fourth-place finish in his dirt debut, the horse came back in the mud to win an allowance race by six lengths three weeks ago.
Sunday morning at the track, Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Triteamtri, saw Pedroza working horses and said: “Hey, Martin, don’t press me today. If there’s a slow enough pace, we might be 1-2 in this race.”
After telling the story, Frankel added: “So we were 1-2. But I didn’t know that this horse would beat me.”
Under moderate early fractions, Triteamtri led from the start, with Super Diamond closest and Martial Law in third place. When Super Diamond dropped out on the turn for home, Martial Law moved up. Coming from the outside, he edged ahead of Triteamtri at the eighth pole and widened the lead the rest of the way.
“I was whipping and praying at the end,” said Pedroza, whose career highlight before Sunday’s $550,275 victory may have been a stakes race at the Los Angeles County Fair. “I have been working this horse as well as riding him, and I liked his chances. A lot of people thought we were crazy, but as long as the horse had four legs, we might as well have run.
“I saw Gary (Stevens, aboard Triteamtri) coming out a little with his horse in the stretch, and all I wanted to do was stay clear. I had so much horse today. I have never been this happy.”
Martial Law carried 113 pounds, making him the lightest winner of the Big ‘Cap since Linmold carried 110 pounds in 1960. Nasr el Arab was Sunday’s high weight at 124 pounds and Triteamtri carried 116.
The day started for the Clover group with its Galba winning the $100,000 New Orleans Handicap by a nose over Honor Medal at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He paid a mere $63.
Julio Canani trains Martial Law, and Neil Drysdale trains both Galba and Honor Medal, who has different owners.
“I feel sorry for Neil a little bit,” Irwin was saying before the Big ‘Cap, after the New Orleans result had come in. “Those Honor Medal people really like to win, and here Neil beats them with another one of his own horses.”
Martial Law is a son of Mr. Leader and Sateen, a Round Table mare. That makes Sunday’s winner a grandson of Round Table, who in 1958 paid $2.30 and is still the shortest-priced winner of the Big ‘Cap.
Mohammed Rashid al Maktoum, the Dubai oil sheik who races Nasr el Arab, wanted to sell Martial Law last summer, in the middle of a 3-year-old season that produced two victories in six starts. But the asking price was $100,000 and the Clover group thought that was too high.
In October, with the year’s racing behind him, Martial Law was sold for about $30,000 at an auction in Newmarket, England, and the buyer, a friend of Irwin’s turned around and sold the horse to Clover for $60,000.
“I knew this horse’s family,” said Irwin, a former columnist for the Daily Racing Form. “Mr. Leader has sired horses that have won $26 million, but all but about $500,000 was on grass. That’s why we thought this horse might turn out to be a nice dirt runner.”
Triteamtri was 20-1 on the morning line, but with the track favoring speed, Stevens thought more of his chances as the race drew closer.
“I thought we should have been about 6-1,” the jockey said. “Then when the track kept playing the way it was, I thought we should be 5-2. He was struggling at the end, and I think the distance is a tad longer than he wants to go.
“When the winner opened up on us, my horse started running again. He was wilting and caving in in the last 100 yards, but he got second only on heart.”
Chris McCarron rode Cherokee Colony.
“The horse was trying to get out on me the whole way,” McCarron said. “He just wasn’t trying to run. But even if he had run his race, it might not have made much difference.”
Laffit Pincay couldn’t explain Super Diamond’s abrupt collapse. “I got him clear on the outside where I wanted him going down the backside,” Pincay said. “Going to the three-eighths pole, I had no horse. He really stopped. But he came back fine.”
Trainer Charlie Whittingham, who started three horses--Payant, Nasr el Arab and Frankly Perfect--as he tried to win his eighth Big ‘Cap, finished fourth, eighth and 10th, respectively.
“I think the track stung Nasr el Arab’s feet hard,” Whittingham said. “The other horse (Payant) couldn’t get through.”
Bill Shoemaker, riding Payant in what may be the jockey’s last Big ‘Cap, was in close quarters along the rail, but he said there was enough room to move if his horse had had anything left.
The only horse with anything left was Martial Law. If the track photographer sells just one winner’s circle picture to each one of the colt’s owners, he might be able to retire immediately.
Horse Racing Notes
Ruhlmann, a 4-year-old colt running for the first time since he was moved from Bobby Frankel’s to Charlie Whittingham’s barn, won Sunday’s Viking Spirit Stakes at Santa Anita and broke the track record for the mile with a clocking of 1:33 2/5. Ruhlmann, who won by 2 3/4 lengths, broke the record of 1:33 3/5 that was set by Pompeii Court in 1982.
Pleasant Variety, who hadn’t won since last March, captured the fifth race and was claimed from trainer Chris Speckert by Jerry Fanning for $80,000