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Winning No. 4 Is Tougher for Apollo : Santa Anita: Three-year-old colt stays unbeaten, winning Breeders’ Champion Stakes by a half-length.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Apollo extended his unbeaten streak to four races Sunday by winning the $137,500 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, but his half-length margin over Slew The Surgeon was the narrowest of the 3-year-old colt’s brief career.

Diane Keith, one of Apollo’s owners, wasn’t worried when Slew The Surgeon ranged up alongside her horse in the stretch. “Our horse had never seen another horse coming to him before,” Keith said.

Kent Desormeaux, who has ridden the heavily favored Apollo in three of his four races--Chris McCarron took over for the other start because Desormeaux was serving a suspension--didn’t sound as unconcerned. “Coming to the last 30 yards . . . I was glad the wire came up when it did.”

Apollo beat maidens by one length in July at Hollywood Park. Sore shins kept him inactive until December, and after a five-length victory at Hollywood, he stepped into stakes competition three weeks later with a 4 1/2-length victory in the San Miguel at Santa Anita. Trainer Gary Jones said that he had trained Apollo lightly for Sunday’s race because of a shin problem.

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Apollo is a son of Falstaff, a Lyphard colt whom Keith and her husband, Harold, bred and raced, and Tumble Along, a filly who won a minor stake and earned the greater part of almost $100,000 after Apollo’s owners claimed her for $32,500 at Santa Anita in 1978.

Falstaff, who raced in Europe and America but did little before a tendon injury ended his career, had only four other offspring the year Apollo was foaled. “He stood for a stud fee of $2,000 then,” Harold Keith said. “We didn’t know what kind of stallion we had, and we weren’t aggressive about filling his book. I don’t want to sound aesthetic about this, but we didn’t want to breed him to just any mare, and we still feel that way.”

Falstaff stands at Hidden Oak Farm, about 15 miles north of Solvang. Tumble Along is back in foal to Falstaff now.

Apollo broke sharply Sunday in an eight-horse field of California-breds and raced between April Fools Gold, on the inside, and Caliche’s Secret going down the backstretch. The fractions were fast, :22 for a quarter-mile and 44 2/5 for the half.

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April Fools Gold not only dropped out of contention, but he faded to last. Desormeaux’s concern was Caliche’s Secret. “He was the whole pressure,” the jockey said. “If I had been outside him, I could have just coasted.”

Apollo, running as far as seven furlongs for the first time, passed Caliche’s Secret on the turn. Slew The Surgeon, ridden by Alex Solis, came after Apollo in the stretch, but had to settle for second.

Apollo was timed in 1:22 2/5 and earned $81,250, more than doubling his purse total. He paid $3 to win.

Slew The Surgeon was making his first stakes appearance, after winning his first start at Hollywood Park two months ago and running second to Jimjen going a mile at Santa Anita Dec. 29.

“I thought we were going to get there,” trainer Mel Stute said of Slew The Surgeon. “I thought my horse was just too big and too good-looking. But that little horse just outran him.”

Slew The Surgeon was wearing full-cup blinkers, something Stute will probably alter. “Maybe if I had put a slit in there, he might have been able to see the other horse better,” Stute said.

Slew The Surgeon finished 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Knockdown, who beat Caliche’s Secret by one length.

There has been an ongoing discussion between Jones and Apollo’s owners about how far their colt can run, and the dialogue will continue.

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“I’d like to keep him sprinting in the (six-furlong) Golden Bear (at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 18),” Jones said, “but I know the owners are going to want to try the mile in the San Rafael (at Santa Anita March 3).”

Horse Racing Notes

Kent Desormeaux won the filly division of the California Breeders’ Champion last Wednesday with Simple Surprise. “I think Apollo can get beyond seven furlongs,” Desormeaux said. “He’s very kind and should be able to be rated.” . . . Gary Stevens, Santa Anita’s leading jockey, didn’t ride Sunday because of illness. . . . Chris McCarron won two races to pull within two of Stevens. . . . Hot Operator, a former stakes horse who had been winless for 11 months, won the ninth race and was claimed for $50,000 by trainer Don Collins.

Steward Pete Pedersen’s wife, Jeanne, 57, died of cancer Sunday. The family plans no burial service and requested that flowers not be sent. . . . If there had been one more carryover day on the Pick Six last week, the benefactor would have been the Santa Anita Foundation’s various charities. The foundation has four days of racing a season when the track’s revenues, minus expenses, go to charities, and one of those charity days was Thursday. On Wednesday, when the Pick Six pool grew to $6.6 million and was hit by bettors holding eight tickets, a crowd of 25,000--about double the average--turned out at Santa Anita and another 10,000 bettors off-track combined for a handle of $12.2 million, which was a national record for a weekday.


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