At the Keeneland yearling auction in 1990, the progeny from Manila's first crop were not especially in demand, even though their sire had won the 1986 Breeders' Cup Turf and been voted male grass champion.
A Manila colt out of Stark Winter, a Graustark mare, was sold for $100,000, slightly less than the average of what 20 other Manila yearlings brought at auctions in Kentucky and New York that year.
"I bought the colt just because he was a good-looking chestnut," John Toffan said. "It was Manila's first crop, so everybody was taking a chance on him as a stallion."
The colt wound up being called Bien Bien. That was a name that stuck with Toffan's partner, Trudy McCaffery, from the night in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when they used it to order their after-dinner Benedictine and brandy drinks from a waiter who was confused by English.
Toffan recalled the horse-naming story Sunday at Hollywood Park, shortly before a toast was in order in honor of Bien Bien. The 4-year-old colt won the $266,800 Sunset Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths to become a millionaire as well as one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 6 at Santa Anita, the same place where Manila clinched his grass championship.
"Manila may still become a good sire," Toffan said. "But his 2-year-olds didn't do any running, and he's still having trouble getting established, except for our horse and a couple of others."
Toffan is a frequent buyer at the sales, spending $1.695 million for eight head last week at Keeneland, but the only other Manila offspring that he has bought was a weanling colt that cost him $19,000 last fall. That was about the time Bien Bien was getting established, after an undistinguished career on dirt.
Trainer Paco Gonzalez put Bien Bien on grass at Santa Anita in October, and the colt has never returned to the main track. He has won the Cinema Handicap, the Hollywood Turf Cup, the Hollywood Turf Handicap and now the Sunset, which was worth $154,300 and brought his total to $1.1 million.
Bien Bien's next race is scheduled to be the Arlington Million on Aug. 29. "That would leave more than two months before the Breeders' Cup," Toffan said. "If he needs a race in between, we'll leave that up to Paco."
Bien Bien, carrying 122 pounds, which was between five and 14 pounds more than his five opponents, covered 1 1/2 miles in 2:25 2/5 and paid $2.80. Emerald Jig, who was 16-1, made a late run to beat Beyton by a half-length for second. Know Heights, who arrived at Hollywood Park from France only a few days earlier, was scratched.
Chris McCarron, who has ridden Bien Bien for all five of the colt's grass victories, had the horse in third place, behind Toulon and Man From Eldorado, through the early going of the Sunset. On the turn, Kent Desormeaux surged through on the rail with Beyton to take the lead, with Bien Bien in fourth on the outside.
"I almost had a heart attack at the three-eighths pole," Toffan said. "I wondered what Chris was doing. It looked like he should have won this race, but you never know."
In the stretch, Bien Bien passed all three horses with an eighth of a mile to run and won easily.
"Mo (Desormeaux) had to move early with his horse," McCarron said, "because he knew I wasn't going to let him (get to the outside). I felt real comfortable at the three-sixteenths pole, and when I asked him for acceleration, he responded like a real class horse. My horse likes to run at horses, and when he had a horse to run at all the way to the eighth pole, it worked out well."
Bien Bien's stakes victories on grass have been at distances between 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/2 miles, and Kotashaan, who beat him twice at Santa Anita last winter, prevailed by a nose in the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano.
McCarron says that Bien Bien is as versatile as they come. "If Paco trained him to run five furlongs on the grass, I think he'd be able to do it effectively," the jockey said.
Brian Mayberry, who saddled Rhapsodic to win the Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, has two 2-year-old colts--Ramblin Guy and Bird County--entered in today's Hollywood Juvenile, the feature on the track's meet-ending program.
Ramblin Guy, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, won his first start at Hollywood in May, then finished second to Miss Ra He Ra in the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs on July 3.
Bird County, 8-1, ran five furlongs in 58 3/5 for a four-length victory in his only start. Mayberry and Bird County's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, won the Juvenile last year with Altazarr and on Friday night they won the $153,700 Hollywood Park Budweiser Breeders' Cup Stakes with Wild Harmony.
Canada's Explosive Red, allowed to gallop off to an early lead, finished strongly for a five-length victory in the $300,000 American Derby at Arlington International.
Ridden by Shane Sellers, Explosive Red paid $22 at Arlington and $24.20 at Hollywood, where the race was telecast. Running second and third were horses with California connections--trainer Richard Cross' Earl Of Barking and trainer Bobby Frankel's Newton's Law, who made his American debut.
Horse Racing Notes
Pat Valenzuela didn't ride his scheduled mount in Sunday's first race, but completed the rest of his engagements and was given a urine test by the stewards that was negative for drugs. Because of Valenzuela's history of drug use, he is monitored closely by the stewards. Valenzuela called in sick Saturday, clearing the way for Laffit Pincay to ride Devoted Brass to victory in the $214,000 Swaps Stakes. . . . Before Bien Bien, jockey Chris McCarron's last victory in the Sunset was with John Henry in 1984. . . . Trainer Bob Hess Jr., who has won 40 races at Del Mar, leading the meets the last two seasons, has strong candidates in both divisions of the Oceanside Stakes when the seaside track opens its season Wednesday. Hess will saddle Guide against 10 rivals in the first half and will run Nominator in the other division, which also drew 11 entrants. Kent Desormeaux, who had four winners Sunday at Hollywood, giving him a meet-high total of 86, will ride both of Hess' runners in the Oceanside. Desormeaux led the Del Mar meeting last year with 68 winners, the most at the track since Pincay won 76 in 1979.