The path from the saddling paddock to the walking ring at Santa Anita isn't very long and the white fence on both sides seems high enough. There was enough time, however, for Kostroma to rear up Sunday and almost go over the waist-high rail that separates the horses from the spectators.
Rafael Martinez, an assistant trainer for Gary Jones, grabbed Kostroma by her lead shank and forced the fiery mare into a two-point landing. "She was too much for the groom," Martinez said, "and she almost stepped on me, too."
About 10 minutes later, Kostroma showed that despite that exhibition, she had plenty of energy left. The Irish-bred 5-year-old won the $137,000 Las Palmas Handicap by half a length and broke the world record for 1 1/8 miles on turf, which had been set at Santa Anita only 10 days before.
Kostroma's time was 1:43 4/5, a fifth of a second faster than Eton Lad's record in an allowance race on Oct. 10.
Exclusive Partner had run the distance in 1:44 4/5 at Santa Anita last year to tie the world record, which means that two horses have taken a full second off that time since then.
Jones is used to his horses setting records. Time To Explode still holds the American mark for seven furlongs on dirt and Beautiful Glass and Timebank, other Jones trainees, have also run extremely fast--but even the trainer was skeptical about Kostroma's time Sunday.
"That time can't be right," Jones said as he stepped into the winner's circle. "I'd like to see what the hand-held time was."
Earlier at the Oak Tree meeting, a Santa Anita turf record was equaled when Belle's Starlet ran down the hill, a distance of about 6 1/2 furlongs, in 1:11 4/5.
The victory was worth $80,750 to Kostroma's owners, William deBurgh, Robert Sangster and Jack Preston and family. The fractions were 21 3/5, 44 3/5, 1:07 4/5 and 1:31 3/5, which means that Kostroma covered the final eighth of a mile in 12 1/5 while Kikala was trying to pass her in the stretch. Kikala was second, beating Campagnarde by a half-length.
Kostroma, who carried 117 pounds, one less than Campagnarde and Free At Last, the fifth-place finisher in a field of six, was ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who tried her for the first time at Del Mar. Jones liked that Desormeaux had Kostroma close to the lead early, but after telling the jockey not to abuse the mare in pre-race instructions, the trainer was displeased by the number of times Desormeaux hit her through the stretch.
"I was still pretty well wrapped up on her when the other horse (Kikala) came to her at the quarter pole," Desormeaux said. "She really picked it up nice when I asked her. She was getting a little tired at the end."
Kostroma paid $4.20 as the betting favorite in a crowd of 20,893. Kikala was 21-1, the longest price on the board, and came close to scoring an upset after winning only once in the last two years.
"I thought I had it won on the turn," said Alex Solis, who rode Kikala. "Then the winner opened up on me again. But my horse kept trying hard."
The victory was Kostroma's seventh in 17 starts. Before the Osunitas, her only other American start came in last November's Yellow Ribbon, which was a disaster. A foot injury, caused by a nail puncture during a van ride, had hurt her training, and besides running eighth in the Yellow Ribbon, Kostroma also bled in the race and came down with a stomach infection that, according to Jones, was life-threatening.
Farrell Jones, the trainer's father, took Kostroma to his Hemet farm after that, working on her feet and nursing her back to health. Gary Jones always knew she could run. When he went to Ireland to buy the mare, she worked out while Jones watched from a car. "We were going 45 miles an hour," Jones said. "That was fast enough for us."
Horse Racing Notes
Today is pre-entry day for the seven Breeders' Cup races worth $10 million that will be run on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs. Preliminary payments for horses must be made today and the fields will be announced Wednesday. . . . For the first year since the Breeders' Cup began in 1984, trainer Charlie Whittingham will not be represented. Whittingham has had 22 starters, his Ferdinand winning the Classic in 1987 and Sunday Silence capturing the same stake in 1989. Whittingham's Breeders' Cup purses have totaled $4.2 million, second to Wayne Lukas' $8 million. The Whittingham barn's last Breeders' Cup hope disappeared Saturday when Golden Pheasant couldn't handle the soft going and ran seventh in the Budweiser International at Laurel. . . . For the year, Whittingham's horses have earned close to $3 million, with the barn headed for its lowest total since 1984.
Trainer John Sadler said that Frost Free, winner of the Ancient Title at Santa Anita last week, will skip the Breeders' Cup Sprint. . . . Kent Desormeaux rode Belle's Starlet in the record-equaling race down the hill earlier in the meeting. . . . The old record for the Las Palmas Handicap was 1:46, set by Ack's Secret in 1980. . . . The stewards gave jockey Danny Quezada a five-day suspension, starting Wednesday, after his horse, True Pride, was disqualified from first to third for causing interference in the stretch of last Thursday's fourth race.