About three hours before the $196,750 victory by Farma Way in Sunday's San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita, Neil Boyce saddled J.T.'s Pet for an $8,800 second-place purse in a high-priced claiming race.
Boyce trained Farma Way until late last year, when the colt's owner, George Bunn, sent the horse to Wayne Lukas, the country's leading trainer in purses won. Under Lukas, Farma Way has blossomed, winning four consecutive races and three stakes, and he will be favored in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap on March 9.
"This always was a horse with a lot of ability," Boyce said this week. "He could run."
Under Boyce, however, Farma Way seldom realized his potential, winning two of 10 starts. "He had problems," Boyce said. "He got some mucus in his lungs and wound up with a lung infection."
Farma Way's brightest moments for Boyce were a second-place finish, behind Lukas' Grand Canyon, in the $1-million Hollywood Futurity in 1989 and a victory in the Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita about a year ago.
After the Baldwin, in the last two times Boyce saddled Farma Way, the horse finished ninth in a 12-horse field in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, then ninth and last as the 2-1 favorite in the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park.
This wasn't a case of a potentially good horse suddenly going sour. Farma Way bled from the lungs in the California Derby.
"We shipped him to Chicago," Boyce said, "but we couldn't treat him with Lasix (a bleeder medication), because the rule there is that an Illinois state veterinarian has to observe the bleeding in order for a horse to get on the bleeders' list. We treated him with other things, but he still didn't run any good."
Farma Way was sent to Bunn's farm in downstate Illinois for a rest. Boyce, who had been training a few horses each year for Bunn during the last four or five years, has been spending recent winters at Santa Anita, and said he figured that Farma Way would be sent to him out here for his 4-year-old season.
One day, Boyce noticed Farma Way's name on the workout sheet at Santa Anita. "I didn't know until then that I didn't have the horse," Boyce said.
Jake Bunn, George's cousin, had run quarter horses with Lukas. One day late last year, George Bunn called Lukas and said, "I've got a horse for you."
Lukas said he'd take the horse without knowing who it was, but when Bunn mentioned Farma Way, the name registered. "I have a breeding interest in Marfa (the sire who won the 1983 Santa Anita Derby), and I follow what his horses do," Lukas said.
Boyce said he hasn't spoken with Bunn since Farma Way went to the owner's farm last summer. "We never had a cross word," Boyce said. "He was a good client. He paid good. But he's known to be a man who changes his trainers often. This is the way the business is--you don't have to do anything wrong for somebody to make a change."
Boyce, 66, started the winter with eight horses at Santa Anita, but Kipper Kelly, after finishing third in the Palos Verdes Handicap on Dec. 29, broke a bone in his ankle. Wednesday, in the Baldwin Stakes, Boyce's Doc of the Day was run down in the stretch by General Meeting and lost by a head.
"We've had 11 starters, and won two, had three seconds and four thirds," Boyce said. "All of our horses have done good."
Sure, it's been a good winter, but it would have been the best winter of all if Neil Boyce still had Farma Way in his barn.
In the background at Hollywood Park's annual shareholders' meeting Monday was John Brunetti, the president of Hialeah.
Brunetti would like to move into the foreground. He has approached R.D. Hubbard, the new president of Hollywood Park, about a seat on the board of directors.
"I should be on the board," Brunetti said from his Florida office Thursday. "I have been adding to my stock in recent years and I'm now one of the biggest shareholders the track has. I'm an owner and a breeder. I have 12 horses with (trainer) Ron McAnally out there, and I have a home in La Costa. I don't know of anyone who is more qualified to be on the board."
In 1988, Brunetti unsuccessfully applied for a 20-year state license to conduct racing at Del Mar. After prolonged meetings, the lease went to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which had operated the track for the 20 previous years.
Hialeah, once one of racing's showcase tracks, is now closed, the result of Brunetti's long-running feud with Gulfstream Park and Calder, the other South Florida tracks. Under state deregulation, Hialeah and Calder raced at the same time last winter, and Hialeah was forced to close because of a lack of business. Brunetti has applied for racing days for next year.
When the Hubbard slate was approved by the shareholders at Monday's meeting, the board grew from 12 places to 17.
Brunetti recognizes that 17 make it a large board. "But what difference would it make if it was 17 or 18?" he said.
Horse Racing Notes
Fly So Free, the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, has drawn the inside post in a field of 10 for Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. In his only start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall at Belmont Park, Fly So Free was an impressive winner in the Hutcheson at Gulfstream on Feb. 2. Among Fly So Free's rivals in the 1 1/16- mile race Saturday are Hansel, a top 2-year-old last year who hasn't run in five months, and Oregon, one of trainer Wayne Lukas' leading Triple Crown candidates.
Randy Romero, the hard-luck jockey, is out of action for at least two months after suffering a broken collarbone and elbow in a spill at Gulfstream last week. Romero was riding Go For Wand in late October when the champion filly broke down and had to be destroyed in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff. Romero suffered several broken ribs and didn't return to action until mid-January, when he was thrown by a horse in a workout and missed 10 more days. Romero, 35, was almost killed in 1983 at Oaklawn Park, where an electrical reducing cabinet exploded and he sustained burns to about 65% of his body.
Under its new management, Hollywood Park has rejoined the Federation of California Racing Assns. Marje Everett, who resigned as Hollywood's chief operating officer on Feb. 3, withdrew the track from the federation in 1986, saying that the group's operations were "not compatible" with Hollywood Park. The federation said Hollywood owed it about $50,000 at the time. Jim Smith, president of the federation, said Thursday that there had been a "financial compromise" in bringing Hollywood back into the group. "We are glad they are back," Smith said. "There are some important issues coming up, such as intertrack wagering, and now we have all of the racing interests working as members of the same organization."
Taffeta and Tule, second to Countus In in the Matriarch at Hollywood, will carry high weight of 120 pounds Saturday in the Buena Vista Handicap. Eight other fillies and mares are entered in the one-mile turf stake. . . . General Meeting, winner of Wednesday's Bradbury, will run next in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. His stablemate, Best Pal, worked seven furlongs Thursday in 1:28 1/5 in preparation for the San Rafael on March 3. . . . Whadjathink bled while running fourth in the Bradbury.