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KENTUCKY DERBY : $1,500 Horse May Be an All-Time Bargain

THE WASHINGTON POST

Angelo Costanza is a long-suffering horseplayer, but he loves the sport so much that he wanted to own thoroughbreds in addition to betting on them. He then became a long-suffering horse owner.

Costanza, the proprietor of a restaurant near Santa Anita, owned more than 15 horses--and not a single one ever got to the races. He paid the bills for many years for a mare who produced five foals--all of whom were stricken by one malady or another.

“A lot of them bowed their tendons, or something just happened to them,” Costanza said. “The only one who had potential threw his exercise rider one morning and ran into a fence.”

So when trainer Ron McAnally telephoned Costanza two years ago and told him he wanted to sell him 50% of a yearling colt he had just bought, the restaurateur was understandably cautious. “How much did he cost?” Costanza asked.

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“Fifteen,” McAnally said.

“All right, I’ll send you a check for $7,500,” Costanza said.

McAnally corrected the miscommunication. The price for the thoroughbred had been $1,500. A half-interest would be $750. The trainer had offered the horse to his friend Costanza because, he said, “if I’d called one of my regular clients, they wouldn’t have taken it seriously.” He gave the other half-interest as a gift to his wife.

But if nobody would take Silver Ending seriously when he passed through an auction ring for such a ridiculously cheap price, the colt is commanding plenty of respect now. He is a bona fide contender in the 116th Kentucky Derby--perhaps the most formidable stretch-runner in the field. Angelo Costanza, who had never won a race before, and Deborah McAnally, who had never owned a horse before, could be accepting a gold trophy at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

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Silver Ending’s bargain-basement price didn’t reflect any serious defects; he was simply one of more than 3,000 yearlings auctioned at the Keeneland fall sale in a declining, saturated thoroughbred market.

McAnally recalled: “I’d been standing there watching all the horses come into the ring, and this good-looking colt came in. He was very correct, he had a beautiful head, he was well-balanced. I opened my catalogue and saw he was by Silver Hawk, the same sire as Hawkster (a major stakes winner whom McAnally trains). I was ready to bid $20,000 or $30,000 for him. As it turned out, I was the only bid.”

Silver Ending, who was named for his handsome silver tail, showed speed and precociousness when he launched his career, but McAnally’s forte is developing distance runners. He taught Silver Ending to come from off the pace, and the colt won the first time he went beyond a mile, sending an elated Costanza into the winner’s circle for the first time.

“That’s what I’d been hoping for: to win one race,” he said. He couldn’t have dreamed the horse was going to earn 400 times his purchase price by spring.

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As a 3-year-old, Silver Ending has won two lucrative races in three starts, but his record is open to wildly different interpretations. He won a stakes race at Bay Meadows against moderate competition, but was trounced in a stakes at Santa Anita. McAnally then sent him to the Arkansas Derby, against a field seemingly devoid of top-class 3-year-olds, and Silver Ending rallied powerfully to win the $500,000 event decisively.

This record could mean Silver Ending is good enough to beat second-tier 3-year-olds, but not ones of the quality he faced at Santa Anita. Or it could mean the race at Santa Anita was an aberration.

Costanza is an enthusiastic handicapper who rarely misses a day at Santa Anita, and he said: “The track was very speed-favoring all winter. I did research on the stakes races this winter, and only two of them were won by horses coming from off the pace. A lot of horses who ran badly there ran well when they ran somewhere else.”

Most of the trainers who campaigned at Santa Anita this winter share this view that the track was so sandy, so speed-favoring that many good horses didn’t run their best race. If that one poor performance can be excused, Silver Ending’s record looks formidable. His Arkansas victory was strong, in the excellent time of 1:48 for 1 1/8 mile.

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Moreover, his stretch-running style will be an asset at Churchill Downs. The Derby field is filled with speedballs, and the anticipated hot pace could favor a horse rallying from far behind. If the race does develop that way, Silver Ending will lose the stigma of being a cheap horse and will instead be regarded as one of the great thoroughbred bargains of all time.


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