On a day when red, white and blue would have been more fitting, trainer Gary Jones wore a green sportcoat to the winner's circle on Wednesday at Hollywood Park.
"The luck of the Irish," Jones said. "I wore this coat the first time this horse won, and I'm still wearing it."
The horse that determined Jones' garb is Classic Fame, a Kentucky-bred, Irish-raced import who came between horses with a sixteenth of a mile to run and won the $216,800 American Handicap by three-quarters of a length.
Steinlen, last year's male grass champion, ran second in the American for the third consecutive year, finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Pleasant Variety, who had 2 1/2 lengths on Mohamed Abdu, the fourth-place finisher in the seven- horse field.
Classic Fame, a 4-year-old son of Nijinsky II and Family Fame, ran 1 1/8 miles on grass in 1:47 4/5 and earned $126,800 for his owners, Dermot Desmond of Dublin, Ireland, and Thomas A. Martin of Peekskill, N.Y.
The crowd of 31,430 made Steinlen, at 8-5, the slight favorite over Classic Fame, and trainer Wayne Lukas' 7-year-old became the eighth consecutive public choice to be beaten in the American. Classic Fame, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, paid $5.40 to win.
In his last start, the Inglewood Handicap on June 17, Classic Fame ran third behind Mohamed Abdu and Peace, but he was beaten by only a half-length after breaking awkwardly from the gate, throwing his head in the air just as the stall opened.
Wednesday, Classic Fame had no gate problems, and instead of having to make up ground, he was in a good position early, in fourth place behind Mohamed Abdu, Steinlen and Gran Judgement.
Mohamed Abdu's trainer, Richard Mulhall, thought he might be bringing his horse back too quickly after the Inglewood, but with the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar not scheduled until Aug. 12, Mulhall felt he had no choice.
Indeed, Mohamed Abdu dropped out of contention at the head of the stretch, when Steinlen took over the lead. Pleasant Variety was trying to close on the outside, and it didn't look like there was enough room for Classic Fame to split that horse and Steinlen.
"At one point, at the three-sixteenths pole, I didn't think I was going to get out," Delahoussaye said. "It looked like the horses in front of me might be backing up on top of me. But Steinlen fell closer to the rail, and that gave me the room to get through."
Watching the rerun on the big board in Hollywood Park's infield, Jones discussed the race and his reaction through the stretch.
"There was not too much of a place to go, but he got through," the trainer said. "For a while, there, I thought we had no shot and I was getting ready to cuss. But then he came through. That's the way it's supposed to go all the time."
It hasn't been going that way for Jones very much at this meeting. He has won 30 stakes in his career at Hollywood Park, but the American was his first stakes win at the track since last year. Overall, Jones had won only six times at Hollywood this season, the frustration building because of three times as many second- and third-place finishes.
Classic Fame, after winning his American debut at Santa Anita on April 12, gave Jones a second in the John Henry Handicap and that third in the Inglewood. He was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old in Ireland in 1988, but suffered a stomach sickness at the end of the year and underwent surgery. He was unimpressive in just two starts as a 3-year-old, before his owners brought him to the United States.
"The difference today was in the first 100 yards," Jones said. "Instead of breaking bad, he got in contention right away and then he still had his kick at the end. Steinlen was in the driver's seat in the early part of the race. I'm glad he was carrying 125 pounds and we had only 117."
Steinlen ran off five wins in a row at the end of last year, clinching the divisional title with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Gulfstream Park, but this year he's been unable to put wins back to back and has been beaten three out of five starts.
"He had a perfect trip," said Steinlen's jockey, Laffit Pincay, who was looking for his fifth win in the American. "I was right where I wanted to be, and when I asked him at the head of the stretch, he responded. I thought I had the race won until I saw the other horse. My horse felt like he was trying. He may have gotten a little tired because the turf course was soft today."
Steinlen and Classic Fame may meet again soon, since both Lukas and Jones are talking about running in the $500,000 Caesars International Handicap at Atlantic City on July 21.
That would be only the 10th start for Classic Fame, compared to Steinlen's career of 40 races.
"My horse should improve and could turn into a real nice horse," Delahoussaye said. "But right now he's still green."
Which also describes that lucky Gary Jones sportcoat. He'll wear it all the way to New Jersey if it means another visit to a winner's circle.