OAK TREE : Toussaud Still Losing Interest but Keeps Earning Dividends

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It had been three months since Toussaud had raced, but nothing has really changed.

The 4-year-old filly is still winning in spite of herself.

Losing interest after taking the lead prematurely, Toussaud won by a half-length instead of blowing away the field Wednesday as the Oak Tree Racing Assn. opened its 25th season at Santa Anita by featuring the $80,700 Autumn Days Handicap.

"It wasn't so much that the other horses came to her at the end, it was more like she stopped," said Kent Desormeaux, who won the two previous runnings of the Autumn Days with Bel's Starlet.

"When she stuck her head in front, she said, 'I'm done,' " Desormeaux said.

Since Toussaud left Great Britain late last year to begin a campaign in the United States, Desormeaux has been the jockey in all but one of her six starts, but he still hasn't figured her out.

Toussaud is such a difficult filly that trainer Bobby Frankel is going to run her one more time, in the one-mile Koester Handicap on Oct. 17, before moving on to the Breeders' Cup Mile on Nov. 6. This means three races in a month for Toussaud, but Frankel said he's not going to get the El Gran Senor-Image Of Reality filly to work in the mornings.

"She drives me nuts, but I guess that goes with the territory as far as she's concerned," Frankel said.

Toussaud was a John Gosden trainee in England, winning three of five starts. She has won four in a row in the United States after running fourth and third in her first two starts.

The first time Desormeaux rode Toussaud at Santa Anita, in April, she finished third, beaten by a half-length.

"She cost herself the race that day," Frankel said. "Kent didn't know her. Now he knows her, and she's still tough to handle. As soon as he got to the lead today, I knew it was too soon."

Running for her breeder, Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Toussaud began the four-race streak with the Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 2 and added the Gamely and American Handicaps before the meet ended. Frankel was prevented from running her during the Del Mar season because of a high blood count that took her out of serious training for about 10 days.

Toussaud's biggest winning margin during the streak has been one length and all the margins have totaled three lengths.

"She's got so much talent, that's what's frustrating," Frankel said. "I don't have a clue as to what's on her mind. She has enough talent that she's overcome her antics and keeps winning."

Toussaud, carrying high weight of 122 pounds and spotting the opposition from five to nine pounds, was timed in 1:14 1/5 for 6 1/2 furlongs on the down-the-hill grass course. Best Dress, at 31-1 the longest shot in the six-horse field, finished second, a nose in front of Yousefia, the second betting choice.

Toussaud, earning $46,950 in increasing her purses to more than $400,000, paid $3.80 for $2. The chalk players in the opening-day crowd of 35,504 needed resuscitation, because longshots were winning most of the day. In the race before the Autumn Days, Stuka, at 3-5, ran last.

There was the requisite booing when Pat Valenzuela returned with the 3-year-old colt, whose Triple Crown aspirations ended in late February after just one start. Stuka's race Wednesday was his first in seven months.

Dixie Fine, undefeated in five starts, four of them against second-rate competition at Remington Park near Oklahoma City, led until mid-stretch of the Autumn Days. Melo Melody was just behind her, with Toussaud in third place. Desormeaux re-routed Toussaud as they came outside the two leaders, but there was still more than a sixteenth of a mile left to run, and Best Dress made the most of the remaining ground.

"She's just got a mind of her own," Desormeaux said of his filly. "It was a load of trouble just getting her to the gate. She almost dropped me. I caught myself with my forearm or I would have gone down. We were galloping along in the post parade up the hill and she just planted both feet. The only thing that made her take the next stride was momentum. I had my arms crossed and I caught myself on her neck. I'm trembling, I'm shaking, but she's worth the trouble."

Trainer Mel Stute hadn't been able to run Best Dress in a year, since she finished last in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Autumn Days was her first start on grass.

"She had been training good," jockey Alex Solis said, "but we weren't sure how she was going to run against this group, because it was the toughest bunch of fillies she's ever run against. Considering the layoff and her first time on turf, we're definitely happy."

Horse Racing Notes

Bobby Frankel, who went into this week as the leading trainer nationally with $6.3 million in purses, more than $2 million ahead Canadian Roger Attfield in second place, will try to win the $300,000 Oak Tree Invitational Sunday with Luazur and his Jolypha is the co-high weight for Monday's $100,000 Lady's Secret Handicap. Jolypha, Toussaud, Magical Maiden and Pacific Squall were all weighted at 122 pounds by Oak Tree's racing department, although Toussaud won't run, of course, and Pacific Squall is doubtful, with trainer Paco Gonzalez also considering the Koester. Either spot is tough for a filly who hasn't run since January. Hollywood Wildcat and Re Toss are weighted at 117 pounds apiece for the stake.

Wednesday's handle, counting off-track, was $8.1 million, breaking the Oak Tree record for an opener that was $7.3 million, set last year. . . . Myrakalu won't run in the Oak Tree Invitational; trainer Wayne Lukas is looking for an easier spot. . . . Best Pal, expected to run in the California Cup Classic on Oct. 16, worked one mile in 1:39 2/5 at Hollywood Park. . . . Gary Jones, Best Pal's trainer, is scheduled for a hearing with the Oak Tree stewards next Wednesday, regarding a positive postrace test for a horse that ran at Del Mar. Two laboratories reported that Capel had a prohibited pain-killer in his system. Although there have been reports that the hearing could be postponed, steward Tom Ward said that next week's date is still on the calendar.

Stark South, winner of the Louisiana Downs Handicap last Sunday, may run in the Burke Handicap at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. Corey Nakatani rode two winners in $150,000 stakes at Louisiana Downs Sunday--Stark South and Miatuschka--and ranks 10th on the national money list with $5.5 million. New York jockeys Mike Smith, who rode five winners Wednesday at Belmont Park, and Jerry Bailey are 1-2 with respective totals of $9.3 million and $9.1 million, and Kent Desormeaux is next with $9 million. . . . Diazo, winner of the Pegasus Handicap, will make another start before the Breeders' Cup Classic, either the Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 15 or the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont the next day.

From 77 applicants, the California Horse Racing Board has narrowed the selection of an executive secretary to four: Roy Minami, who is filling the post on an interim basis; Ester Armstrong, former general manager of the National Orange Show in San Bernardino; Richard Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Racing Commission; and Roy Wood, director of racing for the Texas Racing Commission. Annual salary for the job is about $80,000.

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