With his trainer, Bobby Frankel, listening on the radio at home, Filago unleashed his usual stretch run to beat stablemate Missionary Ridge by three-quarters of a length in the $500,000 Oak Tree Invitational on turf at Santa Anita on Sunday.
"Saddling horses isn't the hard part," Frankel, who was ill, said by phone. "Training them in the mornings is the hard part."
Frankel, 50, who unofficially ranks fourth in North America with 17 stakes winners this year, trained his horses Sunday morning at Santa Anita and said he would be back at the barn today. Humberto Ascanio, a Frankel assistant since 1973, handled race duties Sunday.
"I had to go home," Frankel said. "I didn't want to fool around and catch pneumonia."
Filago ran back to the form he had shown this summer, when he surged in the stretch to win an allowance race at Del Mar and came from next to last to win the Arlington Handicap. Filago returned $10.40 Sunday, mainly because he finished ahead of only one horse in the Arlington Million on Sept. 1.
A post-race examination showed that Filago had bled from the lungs in Chicago, and he raced Sunday on Lasix, a diuretic that curbs bleeding.
Kartajana, trying to become the fourth female to win the Oak Tree, finished third, a neck behind Missionary Ridge, and her trainer, Neil Drysdale, walked off the track wondering what would have happened to the 3-2 favorite with a break or two.
"She couldn't get out (off the rail)," Drysdale said. "She might have been the best. She just never got clear. She ran super, but she just didn't have any room."
Eddie Delahoussaye, trying to win his second big race of the weekend after riding Festin to victory Saturday in the $850,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, bemoaned the way the Oak Tree developed for Kartajana. The Irish-bred 4-year-old was in fifth place down the backstretch while Missionary Ridge, Black Monday and Spending Record contested the slow pace.
On the turn for home, Black Monday quit badly, finishing last. Missionary Ridge and Spending Record were still in front of Kartajana, and Pat Valenzuela, aboard Filago, was able to get off the rail and pass Delahoussaye's filly.
"I had poor racing luck," Delahoussaye said. "I sure would have liked a cleaner trip. The only place I had to come out was at the head of the stretch, but if I'd come out, I might have dropped Pat. She was trapped all the way. If I'd had any kind of shot, I think she'd have won. Neil wanted me to get outside (from the inside post) at the start, but she broke so good I was trapped."
It was Valenzuela's first victory in the Oak Tree. He had called in sick the day of the 1989 running, and Russell Baze took his place and rode Hawkster to victory.
"I knew Eddie had a lot of horse down the backside, so I followed him to the three-sixteenths pole, then angled out," Valenzuela said. "I didn't have to ride my horse that hard. I'm sure Bobby is feeling better now. This is his get-well present from me."
Filago's time for 1 1/2 miles was 2:23 3/5, fourth-fifths of a second slower than Hawkster's world-record run two years ago. Filago, a 4-year-old son of Foolish Pleasure and Derly, a Lyphard mare, is owned by Edmund Gann of San Diego.
Filago had won only three of 12 starts in France, going winless in eight tries in 1990, but one of Frankel's scouts, Alain Faleurd, liked the horse and arranged for the sale for an undisclosed amount. Faleurd has picked out other stakes winners for Frankel, including Garthorn and Lina Cavalieri.
Frankel's third starter Sunday, Glorify, finished fifth, which meant that his barn accounted for $410,000 of the total purse.
Missionary Ridge, an import from England, ran the best race of his American career despite finishing second. He's only won once in nine United States starts.
"He really made me work from the start," said David Flores, who rode Missionary Ridge. "He's always trying hard. He never stopped. The other horse was just a better horse."
In his last start, Missionary Ridge finished seventh in the Del Mar Handicap.
Exbourne, who may have been Frankel's best grass horse this year, nearly died of colic this summer. He is back at Santa Anita and is expected to resume training in four or five weeks.
"I think Filago's better than Exbourne, going a mile and a half," Ascanio said.
Filago is headed for the $2-million Breeders' Cup Turf, another 1 1/2-mile race, at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2. Frankel will be taking two other shots in the Breeders' Cup, with Val Des Bois in the $1-million Mile and Marquetry in the $3-million Classic. Marquetry will run Saturday at Santa Anita in the Goodwood Handicap.
Horse Racing Notes
Bobby Frankel's luck didn't extend to Belmont Park, where his Berillon finished far back Sunday at Belmont Park in the Turf Classic, with Solar Splendor beating Dear Doctor by a neck. . . . . Fire the Groom, the Bill Shoemaker trainee, ran fourth, beaten by about a length in the Prix de l'Opera Sunday at Longchamp.
Rodney Rash, longtime Charlie Whittingham assistant, saddled his first winner when More Than Willing won the third race. It was Rash's 17th race and More Than Willing's second. . . . There are 12 horses entered in two on the also-eligible list for Wednesday's Autumn Days Handicap, with Akinemod assigned top weight of 119 pounds. . . . In betting on the Arc de Triomphe, Suave Dancer paid $8.20 to win.