Racing doesn't always work this way, but breeding went a long way toward deciding the result of Sunday's $500,000 Charles H. Strub Stakes at Santa Anita.
Flying Continental, who wore down two horses--Quiet American and Hawkster--for a half-length victory, actually had two bloodlines going for him. The 4-year-old colt is a son of Flying Paster, who was good enough to win many a Strub but came along in 1980 when the nonpareil, Spectacular Bid, was in the race.
And Jay Robbins, Flying Continental's trainer, was barely past voting age when his mother, Maggie, went to the winner's circle as the co-owner of Most Host following the 1968 Strub.
The other ingredients in the 43rd running of the Strub were Flying Continental and Corey Black, the 21-year-old jockey who is being repaid for the loyalty he showed to Robbins by riding the colt last year when he was 84-1 to win the Kentucky Derby.
Robbins got his first dose of Strub glory when he saddled another unsound horse, Nostalgia's Star, to win the stake for 4-year-olds in 1986.
"Nostalgia's Star had the same problems as Flying Continental, but not as severe," Robbins said.
On Sunday morning, when a state veterinarian went by the barn to examine Flying Continental, Robbins said that the colt "almost fell on his nose" coming out of the stall.
"But that's not unusual," Robbins said. "He's been doing that ever since he made his first start at Del Mar."
Robbins took Flying Continental to the training track and jogged him Sunday morning, which usually helps the soreness that perpetually plagues the horse in his right knee. Robbins says that Flying Continental may have ligament damage, and the horse is frequently X-rayed to make sure the injury isn't more serious.
"The horse was ready to run Sunday," Robbins said. "His condition is the way it is, and he lives with it. I live with the horse, and I know him."
Jack Robbins, Jay's father, is another part of the Flying Continental crew, since he manages the West Coast racing interests of Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the horse. Cooke, the owner of the Washington Redskins and Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky, has only seen Flying Continental run twice--when he finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby and when he finished second in a race at Santa Anita last year.
"This horse is not a top horse, but he's a tough horse," said Jack Robbins, a veterinarian who has tended to John Henry and hundreds of other horses. "By my count, he's run eight times at a mile or farther on this track, and won five of them."
Flying Continental's only other win in 18 starts came at Del Mar. He paid $8 to win Sunday, as the second choice in a 10-horse field, and earned $275,000 to send his purse total soaring to $793,000. If Jay Robbins can keep him together, Flying Continental will some day be prominent on the California-breds' earnings list, where Nostalgia's Star occupies second place--behind Snow Chief's $3.3 million--with $2.1 million. Flying Paster is eighth with $1.1 million.
Quiet American, the 2-1 favorite, passed Hawkster, the early leader, at the top of the stretch, but couldn't hold off Flying Continental. Quiet American finished 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Hawkster, who has won four of five on grass but is two for 14 on dirt. Hawkster carried 126 pounds, high weight and seven more than Flying Continental.
Sunday's track was rated as good, with Flying Continental running 1 1/4 miles in 2:01 2/5. The crowd of 29,819 was one of the smallest in Strub history, held down by cool, wet weather and the backlash from Saturday, when 63,000 turned out for Bill Shoemaker's last ride.
The Strub field was weak but competitive, and actually the best horse to run Sunday was Bayakoa, last year's champion older filly or mare who began her career as a 6-year-old with a 3 1/2-length victory in the $157,700 Santa Maria Handicap about two hours before the Strub.
Black regained the mount on Flying Continental for the colt's victory on another off track in the San Fernando three weeks ago. Chris McCarron rode the colt the two races before that, and got off of him for the San Fernando because two days before the race Jay Robbins didn't think they were going to run. That time, Flying Continental had a skin rash and a leg infection.
On Sunday, Flying Continental stayed close to the pace, in fourth place. At the top of the stretch, it looked as if the victory belonged to Quiet American. McCarron was easying him past Hawkster, whose jockey, Russell Baze, had already gone to serious whipping.
Flying Continental was stuck on the rail, so Black swung him outside, four horses wide, for the stretch run.
"I had no choice," Black said, "but I had thought of getting him to the outside, anyway, to give him a chance to run. I swung out into the turn a little more than I liked. At the eighth pole, I thought I had it won. Chris still had some horse left, but I hit my horse once and he responded."
Quiet American, the English-raced horse who had won both of his American starts, was bumped leaving the gate, but neither McCarron nor Gary Jones, his trainer, thought this was a factor.
"He was second best," McCarron said. "I was just happy with the effort, which was better than last time."
Quiet American was running in his first American stake. "He lost ground at a crucial point (the three-eighths pole) and wound up about six wide," Jones said. "But I'm not making any excuses."
Trainer Ron McAnally must decide whether to send Hawkster back to grass or shoot for the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap. The day wasn't a complete bust. McAnally trains Bayakoa.
Bayakoa's 3 1/2-length victory in the Santa Maria Handicap looked like a rerun of the five-length win by Gorgeous on Saturday in the Santa Anita's La Canada Stakes.
Handicappers will have difficulty deciding which race was better when Bayakoa and Gorgeous hook up on Feb. 18 in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap.
Gorgeous carried 125 pounds Saturday and Bayakoa had a 126-pound impost Sunday. "I'm concerned about picking up weight (with Bayakoa) as we move through the year," trainer McAnally said, "but I would think that the weights might be about the same next time."
There was a four-pound difference--because of weight-for-age conditions--in Gorgeous' favor when Bayakoa beat her by 1 1/2 lengths in last November's Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Sunday's win was Bayakoa's ninth in her last 10th starts, and the $90,200 share of the purse boosted her earnings to $1.6 million. She paid $2.60 to win, discouraging all but three other horses from running, and ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.
Nikishka finished second after trying to keep up with Bayakoa early. Chris McCarron replaced Laffit Pincay on Bayakoa. Pincay, who suffered a broken collarbone in a harness-racing exhibition race at Los Alamitos, will regain the mount and says he'll return to action on Feb. 17.
"I talked to Laffit after his accident," McAnally said, "and he said that that was the first thing he thought of when he went down. He's coming back on the 17th and the Santa Margarita is on the 18th. Kind of ironic, isn't it?"
Horse Racing Notes
Gene Klein confirmed Sunday that Jack Kent Cooke made an offer for Klein's 200-acre farm in Rancho Santa Fe. Cooke, as owner of the Washington Redskins, and Klein, who ran the San Diego Chargers, were once together in the National Football League. Klein sold the Chargers and he's also left racing after being an important part of trainer Wayne Lukas' multimillion-dollar charge through the 1980s. Klein wouldn't say what Cooke's offer was for the farm, but it was believed to be $22 million. Cooke owns Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky. "The farm really isn't for sale, because my family and I haven't decided," Klein said. "Jack and I go way back, and he called me cold with an offer, but I told him I want to keep the place for now."
Ed Allred, part of the quarter-horse group that's negotiating to buy an interest in Los Alamitos from Lloyd Arnold and partners, was at Santa Anita Sunday and said that the $16.5-million deal will go through soon. The deal will make Allred's group and Arnold's syndicate equal partners in the 125 acres that are necessary to conduct racing at the plant. Allred and his partners are also moving ahead with a track in Riverside County, a 130-acre development that could begin racing in 1992. About $5 million of Allred's financing is coming from Delaware North, the concessionaire at Los Alamitos. Delaware North, under various names, has long been a lender for sports franchises. "They were going to be our concessionaire in any event," Allred said.
Prized didn't win last year's Santa Anita Handicap, as was written here Sunday. His stablemate, Martial Law, did. Prized is a candidate for this year's Big 'Cap. . . . The Santa Catalina, a minor stake that was won by Ferdinand en route to his Kentucky Derby victory in 1986, will be run Wednesday, with Music Prospector, Tsu's Dawning, Flying Reb, Senegalaise, Short Timer, Shapiro's Hero and El Toreo in the field. Flying Continental won the Santa Catalina last year. . . . Trainer Bill Shoemaker--that take's some getting used to--says that he probably won't start a horse until well into the summer season at Hollywood Park. Shoemaker will have a stable of perhaps 12 horses at Hollywood, about half of them 2-year-olds. He knows training will be different than riding. "If you get a bad horse when you're training, you're stuck with him," he said. "If you're a jock and you get a bad horse, you can get off him and say to the trainer, 'Here he is, I don't want him.' "