Trainer John Gosden is back, if only for a fortnight or two. Once an Englishman abroad, while working here during most of the 1980s, Gosden went home in 1989, and now he has returned to California for an autumn invasion of Hollywood Park, where he had saddled 39 stakes winners while using Barn 66N as a base.
Congenial as ever, Gosden stood under the paddock trees before last Sunday’s Hollywood Derby, quoting Oscar Wilde and entertaining passersby with his familiar self-deprecating humor.
“How smart am I?” Gosden said. “There are 21 horses running in the two divisions of this stake, and I’m the only one trying to win it with a filly.”
Gosden was smart enough in 1983, when he won a split division of the Hollywood Derby with Royal Heroine. The following fall, his Irish-bred filly beat the males again, this time in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Hollywood Park. That victory clinched the female grass championship for Royal Heroine.
Also in 1983, in what was probably Gosden’s greatest training accomplishment, he won the Santa Anita Handicap and three other stakes with Bates Motel, a gawky, gimpy runner, in a season that nailed down the Eclipse Award for best older horse.
Last Sunday, lightning did not strike twice for Gosden in the Hollywood Derby. Satin Flower, the late-running filly from England, ran sixth in the first half of the stake, finishing about 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Eternity Star.
Satin Flower may do better if Gosden decides to run her back at Hollywood against her own sex in the Matriarch on Dec. 1. Even without her, Gosden will be represented by Susurration in the Matriarch, which he won with Royal Heroine in 1984 and Asteroid Field in 1987. The Matriarch is the windup of a long weekend of grass races at Hollywood, with Gosden expecting to run Ajib in the Hoist The Flag, also on on Dec. 1; Lord Charmer and Perfolia in the Citation Handicap on Nov. 30 and Snow Forest in the Miesque Stakes on the same day. Gosden’s parting shot before he returns to England will be Nucleus in the Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 15.
These horses spill from the international equine empire of Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum, a Cambridge man like Gosden, who invited the 40-year-old trainer to join his roster of horsemen at the end of 1988. The Sheik may have as many as 500 horses in training at one time and employs as many as 35 trainers to sort them out.
Four times, Gosden finished either fifth or sixth in the United States on the trainers’ money list, and this year in England he won 84 races, which ranked him fifth. Gosden said he won a few more races in 1990, but this year, the stable’s purse total--$1.2 million--was higher.
Easy Now’s shocking defeat, at 1-5 odds, in last Sunday’s Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct eliminated what might have become a regional display of voting in the Eclipse Awards election for this year’s best 2-year-old filly.
With Easy Now no longer undefeated, Pleasant Stage is a cinch to win the title. Pleasant Stage deserved the championship, anyway, having won the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs in a two-week surge.
Had Easy Now won the Demoiselle, which went to the longshot Stolen Beauty, the vote would have been close between her and the California-based Pleasant Stage. Eastern voters were prepared to support Easy Now, not so much because they thought she was better than Pleasant Stage, but for the worst of reasons--in protest against the Breeders’ Cup selection committee, which didn’t allow Easy Now to run in the overcrowded Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2.
The committee, which consists of an international panel of racing secretaries, was trapped by time constraints. The deadline for determining the Breeders’ Cup fields was two days before Easy Now made her first stakes appearance, which resulted in an easy victory at Aqueduct on Oct. 24. All the committee had to go on when it rated the horses was Easy Now’s first race, which despite being an 11 1/2-length victory was against maidens.
“Every time a horse gets left out that some people think should run, we hear the criticism,” said Tommy Trotter, a veteran member of the Breeders’ Cup selection committee. “It’s easy to say that this horse or that horse deserves the chance to run. But the tough part is: Who do you leave out? When it gets down to the last couple of horses, it’s a tough call. We have to go by the horses’ records, not the projections of what they might do.”
Based on two races, Easy Now was being handed the same premature reputation that had been foisted on her half-brother, Easy Goer, when he ran well as a 2-year-old in 1988. Easy Goer, from the same generation as Sunday Silence, never won another title. One New York turf reporter had an ulterior reason for complaining that Easy Now was left out of the Breeders’ Cup, and that’s a shame. Had the filly won at Churchill Downs, the reporter was said to have won $2,000 from one of Nevada’s future books.
When Pat Day left Hollywood Park Sunday, he was still one short of tying the record for most stakes winners ridden in one year. Day, who has won 56 stakes, one less than the totals registered by Jorge Velasquez in 1985 and Craig Perret last year, was ninth with Heavy Rain in the first half of the Hollywood Derby and fourth with Rainbows For Life in the second half.
The Midwest-based Day, 38, hasn’t won a stake this year in New York or California, where he seldom rides. Surprisingly, Day’s best stakes track has been Woodbine, where he has won 11 times, and along with one victory at Fort Erie, that gives him 12 victories in Canada. Oaklawn Park has been Day’s best U.S. track, with nine victories, followed by seven each at Churchill Downs and Keeneland and five at Arlington International.
Day has ridden so much in Canada because he became the regular jockey for Dance Smartly and Sky Classic, two of the best horses that ran up north. Dance Smartly swept the Canadian Triple Crown and finished the season undefeated with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, one of Day’s three victories in $1-million races. Nine of Day’s 11 Canadian victories were on Dance Smartly and Sky Classic.
With more than 400 race victories and close to $14 million in purses, Day is also the North American leader in both of those categories.
Horse Racing Notes
Marquetry, who was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will try to give trainer Bobby Frankel his fourth victory in the Hawthorne Gold Cup when he carries 121 pounds Saturday in the $500,000 race in suburban Chicago. Twilight Agenda, second to Black Tie Affair in the Classic, is the high weight at 124 pounds. . . . Filago, the Frankel-trained colt who broke down in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, has had a plate surgically inserted in his injured leg and will be sold as a stallion prospect. . . . Tight Spot, who ran a dead heat for ninth place with In Excess in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, has a bone chip in an ankle. The injury may not require surgery, and Tight Spot is scheduled to run next year. . . . Eternity Star, winner of a division of the Hollywood Derby, is a possibility for the Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 15. A Turf Cup probable is Miss Alleged, who was sent to trainer Charlie Whittingham at Hollywood Park after winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf. . . . Whittingham will be running Golden Pheasant in the $2.5-million Japan Cup in Tokyo Sunday.