Six months of the 1990 North American racing season are in the books. But the next six months will count most when Eclipse Awards are considered at the end of the year.
Since 1980, there have been only three champions who did not race between July and December--Swale, Risen Star and Tiffany Lass. For the most part, horses who build solid records in the winter and spring must maintain their momentum or risk being forgotten.
Criminal Type, the Hollywood Gold Cup winner, is clearly ahead on points in the run for horse of the year. Although he has yet to win a handicap as the top weight, he has been both fast and consistent. Reigning champion Sunday Silence and New York’s Easy Goer will need to knock off Calumet Farm’s star at some point before they can concentrate on one another.
Among 3-year-olds, Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and Preakness winner Summer Squall emerged from the Triple Crown as tired colts in need of time off. While they are resting, the field is wide open for a late-bloomer to steal the show.
Go and Go, the Irish winner of the Belmont Stakes, will be back for the Travers at Saratoga. Rhythm has rebounded from throat surgery and a disastrous spring. Belmont runner-up Thirty Six Red still has his share of supporters. And California Derby winner Stalwart Charger can boost his stock if he wins the Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood Park Sunday.
A look at the other divisions:
3-year-old fillies--All six of last year’s champions are having respectable 1990 campaigns. But only Go for Wand has nearly done enough to earn a second consecutive title.
She made her only bad step in the Kentucky Oaks, finishing second to Seaside Attraction. Other than that, she has been dominant, with victories in the Mother Goose, the Ashland and the Beaumont. Wayne Lukas-trained fillies have won most of the rest of the races, and the speedy Charon may be the best in a sprint.
Older fillies and mares--No surprises here. Defending champion Bayakoa and her nemesis, Gorgeous, have the best division rivalry going since Susan’s Girl and Desert Vixen traded titles in the early 1970s.
The Big Two have split two decisions this year, chasing away the rest of the opposition. Round 3 comes up at Hollywood Park July 15 in the Vanity Handicap. Then, in the fall, they could meet in the Ruffian Handicap and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in New York.
Sprinter--The only horse Housebuster has lost to this year is Criminal Type. Defending sprint champ Safely Kept, in the meantime, is four for four and will run again July 4 at Finger Lakes. Pimlico hopes to lure them for the new $350,000 De Francis Memorial Dash Aug. 18.
Turf--The West Coast is top-heavy. Defending champ Steinlen, now 7, won the Hollywood Turf Handicap, retaining his ranking. Prized is still perfect on the turf, but is beset by physical problems. And front-running Hawkster is only a neck and three-quarters of a length away from being the leader of the entire pack.
Among the mares, defending champ Brown Bess might be showing her age as well. Now 8, she has won one of four starts in 1990, losing her last two on home ground at Golden Gate Fields.
Her trainer, Chuck Jenda, says she is training as well as ever. But to retain her title, she will need to win the Ramona at Del Mar and the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita in the fall, at the very least.
Today’s Grade I Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood will have little to do with the ultimate championship of the turf mare division. Eastern invader Coolawin is in town. Nikishka and Reluctant Guest help make it competitive, if not nationally significant.
But for the most part, it is a replay of the Gamely Handicap run last month, with the first three finishers--Double Wedge, Stylish Star and Beautiful Melody--coming right back.
The wild card in the turf mare category is Petite Ile, an Irish-bred filly. At 1 1/8 miles, the Beverly Hills probably is too short for the daughter of European star Ile de Bourbon. She defeated males in the 1989 Irish St. Leger, at 1 3/4 miles, and is barely warmed up going less than 1 1/4 miles. Trainer Ed Gregson is biding his time with Petite Ile until the 1 1/2-mile Sunset Handicap on Hollywood’s closing day, July 23.
“There’s only so many mile-and-a-half races you can run a mare in these days,” Gregson said. “The way American racing has evolved, it’s almost a knock on a pedigree to have a horse who can go that far. And that’s a shame.
“As it is, I’ll have to shorten her up in races like the Beverly D. at Arlington and the Yellow Ribbon. And in the Sunset we’ve got to run against a champion like Steinlen.”
Petite Ile has run in three races in the United States, all of them at Golden Gate Fields, and she has been more impressive each time. She has beaten Brown Bess twice, most recently in the Golden Gate Handicap June 16.
“Her trainer in Ireland, John Oxx, was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to handle the tight turns over here,” Gregson said. “She did have a little trouble making the turn in her first race. But she’s smart. Since then she’s had no trouble at all.”
Horse Racing Notes
The field for Sunday’s nine-furlong Silver Screen also includes Stalwart Charger, Toby Jug, Music Prospector, Big Bass, Kentucky Jazz and Warcraft.
Trainer Ron McAnally reports that Music Merci emerged from a six-furlong workout Wednesday with a broken sesamoid bone in his ankle. “There’s always a chance he could come back,” McAnally said. “But it will have to be nature that takes care of it. This particular fracture is not operable.” Music Merci, a son of Stop the Music, is owned by Harvey Cohen and Lonnie Pendleton. He last won in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.