THOROUGHBRED RACING : Sometimes the Owner Knows Best, but Other Times It Is the Trainer
Those races at Churchill Downs last month might have been called the Breeders’ Cup, but this year they should have been known as the Owners’ Cup.
What made the day was that one horse owner overruled his trainer and another owner conceded that his trainer knew their horse better.
Otherwise, there would have been no Arazi, electrifying the crowd with his brilliant run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; and Black Tie Affair would not have won the Classic, thrusting himself foursquare into the election for horse-of-the-year honors.
Francois Boutin, the premier French trainer, wanted to close shop on Arazi’s 2-year-old season after the colt had won his sixth consecutive race in Europe. But Allen Paulson, the American who races Arazi, kept saying, “I’ve got the best horse in the world” and dragged Boutin to Kentucky.
Jeff Sullivan, the Chicago-area automobile dealer who owns Black Tie Affair, thought that his trainer, Ernie Paulos, might be asking too much of their horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Black Tie Affair hadn’t run the Classic’s 1 1/4-mile distance in almost a year and had made two appearances in the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint, finishing third in the stake last year.
“The world is funny,” Paulos said. “This half thinks one way, and the other half thinks the other way.”
Paulos persuaded Sullivan to run Black Tie Affair in the Classic. “He told me that to merit horse-of-the-year consideration, we’d have to run in the Classic,” Sullivan said. “ ‘Is it worth it?’ I asked him. ‘It’s worth it,’ he said. Now, of course, I’m thrilled to death.”
Racing lore is crammed with stories about owners who did right--and wrong--by their horses by countermanding their trainers’ wishes. Genuine Risk, a possibility in 1980 to become the first filly to run in the Kentucky Derby in 21 years, ran third in the Wood Memorial two weeks before, and trainer LeRoy Jolley stood on the track at Aqueduct and said: “Well, we won’t be going to Kentucky.”
A few days later, Bert Firestone, who raced Genuine Risk with his wife, Diana, told Jolley that they would be running in the Derby, and Genuine Risk became the first filly to win the race in 65 years.
The following year, perhaps overwhelmed by the wizardry of his decision on Genuine Risk, Firestone gave Jolley another Derby hard-sell. This time, their Churchill Downs horse was to be Cure The Blues, a hard-ridden second-place finisher in the Gotham Stakes and then an exhausted, well-beaten third in the Wood after he and Noble Nashua had spent themselves in a speed duel.
The Derby, which would be Cure The Blues’ third tough race in four weeks, looked like a stretch, but Bert Firestone was determined to go. Jockey Jacinto Vasquez was replaced by Bill Shoemaker, and Cure The Blues had nothing in his tank, struggling to 15th place. He didn’t even beat Noble Nashua, who managed to finish ninth.
Sometimes trainers can agree with their strong-willed owners, sometimes they resist. Frequently, the loggerheads vanish when the trainer acquiesces, knowing that over the long haul he would still like to have the owner as a client.
Eddie Gregson thought he was in a more independent position going into the 1986 Kentucky Derby. If ever a trainer had a right to be overcome with Derby fever, Gregson did, because he had won the race with Gato Del Sol, a 21-1 shot, only four years before.
Icy Groom, a colt owned by William Fleming, had been second to Snow Chief in the Santa Anita Derby and fourth at Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes, a traditional Derby prep. Gato Del Sol had been second in the Blue Grass.
Fleming wanted to continue with Icy Groom in the Derby, but when a reporter reached Gregson a week before the race, the trainer was back at his Santa Anita headquarters. “I understand the colt will be running in the Derby,” Gregson said. “But I will not be there to saddle him.”
Icy Groom was dropped into the Derby’s pari-mutuel field for betting purposes, a sign that a horse is among the longest of longshots, and without Gregson’s help, he strolled home eighth, beaten by more than 13 lengths.
Since he re-entered racing in the early 1980s, waving greenbacks with both fists, Allen Paulson has shown that he can be a tough owner to say no to. Ron McAnally still holds the record for the most expensive claim at Hollywood Park because Paulson insisted that they take Twin’s Tornado there in November 1983. That Twin’s Tornado was a gelding was inconsequential to Paulson. Following orders, McAnally dropped in the claim slip for $170,000. The following year, Twin’s Tornado raced 14 times and won once.
Paulson can argue, as many owners do, that since he pays the bills, why shouldn’t he have something to do with calling the shots? At least, Paulson’s many trainers have some autonomy. You train for Fred Hooper, the 94-year-old Florida breeder, and your horses seldom leave their stalls without the owner’s approval.
Paulson came into this year’s Breeders’ Cup carrying heavy baggage--the heartache of having his Dinard, one of the 1991 Kentucky Derby favorites, eliminated by injury less than two weeks before the race. Paulson, who gets close to his horses, sees Arazi as the Dinard of 1992 at Churchill Downs, so what better way to introduce the colt to Louisville than by running him there as a 2-year-old?
So now, both Paulson and Paulos are the current geniuses. And when an owner is hailed as a genius, that gives him the right to make at least 50 more improbable decisions down the road.
Horse Racing Notes
In winning the second race Thursday, Sam Who was claimed by trainer Sanford Shulman for $12,500, which was $87,500 less than what trainer Bill Spawr claimed him for last January at Santa Anita. Spawr has made many profitable claims, but Sam Who never regained the form that earned him a 1989 trip to Gulfstream Park, where he he finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint before being disqualified to 13th. After being claimed for $100,000, Sam Who never finished better than fourth prior to Thursday, dropping from stakes company to the bottom of the claiming ranks. Thursday’s victory was the first for the 6-year-old gelding since 1989.
Curious Bidder won Thursday’s fifth race and gave jockey Eddie Delahoussaye his 200th victory of the year. No. 199 for Delahoussaye was A.P. Indy, who might be his Kentucky Derby future for next year. A.P. Indy, winning at Bay Meadows Wednesday for his second consecutive victory after a fourth at Del Mar in August, is a probable for the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 22. “He’s a little green, but he’s still learning,” said Delahoussaye, who won Derbys with Gato Del Sol and Sunny’s Halo in 1982-83. “He’s so ‘babyfied,’ he really doesn’t know what’s going on yet. I was glad to go up to ride him, because he’s going to be a nice one.”