Colt Is Giving Song to Hope for the Derby

I have to say I was proud of the horseplayers Sunday at Santa Anita. Proud, but not surprised.

An earthquake ripped through the establishment some time between the second and third race.

Now, anywhere else on Earth, when a 5.3 shock ripples through the premises, people flee, sirens wail and business activity comes to a standstill and shuts down for the day.

But horseplayers do not deal with earthquakes. After all, they are not part of their figures. Horses get mud marks for ability to stand up and run straight in the rain. Horses get speed ratings. They are marked for their ability to go a route. But who can handicap an earthquake? Not even Caltech, it would appear. So what chance does a guy who answers to the name Hot Horse Harry or Big Julie or Longshot Louie have?


So, the meet never missed a beat. The bugler was sounding the call for the third race as the temblor hit, but the horseplayers never even broke stride as they headed for the windows. They probably wanted to die even. Or ahead. They could go to St. Peter and say, “What’d you do that for? I was ahead in the meeting!”

If someone asked a player, “What did you think of the earthquake?” the response would probably be, “What race was he in?” Or maybe even, “I thought the boy rode him like an ostrich.”

It takes more than an earthquake to distract the horseplayer from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. The end of the world would be hard put to get his attention. Particularly if he was trying to make a case for some 20-1 shot.

Actually, if the horseplayers had let it, the earthquake would have upstaged one of the important races of the year.

The San Felipe is a $200,000 1 1/16-mile stake, and you know all you need to know about it when I tell you that three horses who won it went on to win the Kentucky Derby. But that’s nothing. Four horses who finished second went on to win the Derby.

That gives you seven horses that finished first or second in the San Felipe going on to win in Kentucky.

But that’s nothing, either. One horse who won this race, Affirmed, went on to win the Triple Crown and four who finished first or second went on to win the Preakness. Seven San Felipe winners went on to win the Santa Anita Derby and of the horses who finished first, second or third, 21 went on to win the Santa Anita Derby.

If form prevails, then, either Soul Of The Matter or Brocco will win the Santa Anita Derby next month and maybe the Kentucky Derby in May.


Either way, “Hooray for Hollywood” should supplant “My Old Kentucky Home” the first Saturday in May. Brocco, who finished second in the San Felipe, is the colt owned by Cubby Broccoli, the originator and producer of the James Bond movies.

Soul Of The Matter, who won the San Felipe, is owned by composer Burt Bacharach, and if the horse follows the well-worn path from winner of the San Felipe to winner of the Santa Anita to winner of the Kentucky Derby, Tinseltown will still get top billing.

Every Hollywood filmmaker knows that the only thing as important to a movie as the script is the score. From Irving Berlin to Henry Mancini to Dmitri Tiomkin, the soundtracks have been as critical to the success of big-budget films as the stars or the horses.

Bacharach is one of the greats of the film music makers, the troubadours who set the scene for a blockbuster movie as surely as the dialogue. Who could come away from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” not singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” or from “Alfie” not humming “What’s it All About, Alfie?”


When Bacharach is not at a keyboard or on a stage, he’s in a paddock. Or a stable. Horse racing, like music making, is an addiction, and Burt, whose father was a longtime syndicated newspaper columnist, got hooked early.

Bacharach’s music has earned him three Oscars and so many Grammy Awards, he couldn’t tote them up immediately. But he has never had a horse as close to a gold record as Soul Of The Matter. He did have the filly Heartlight No. 1--named for a song he collaborated on--in 1983, and she became filly of the year. But Burt had some horses that were losers of the week. In fact, his horses once lost 43 races in a row, he acknowledges. But he recently did a concert in Louisville, and he hopes Soul Of The Matter can play one there in May.

The San Felipe was not supposed to be a recital for the music man’s horse. It was supposed to be a match race between Brocco and Valiant Nature, a rematch of their hookup in the Hollywood Futurity won by Valiant Nature. The other horses in the San Felipe were supposed to be the chorus. The posse. On a sound stage, they would have handed them spears. Brocco, after all, had won the Breeders’ Cup, emblematic of the 2-year-old championship.

The track was listed as “good,” which, in racetrack parlance, means anything but. A track gets to be “good” right after it’s terrible and it means the traction will be barely this side of a banana peel’s.


Soul Of The Matter hit this surface like Nancy Kerrigan and, when Brocco and Valiant Nature had run themselves into a clothesline, Bacharach’s horse went by them in the stretch as if they were waiting for a bus.

If history tells us anything, Brocco or Soul Of The Matter will win the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 and maybe go on to win the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May.

Racetrack wisdom says that Brocco and Valiant Nature were “short horses” Sunday, lacking sufficient prep races. Neither had run this year, whereas Soul Of The Matter had raced twice, finishing third once.

But Murray’s Law--which is rooted in an unassailable position, ignorance--says, “Good horses win, bad horses excuse.” You can get used to losing.


Hollywood has had a spotty record at Kentucky anyway, where the hardboots used to rejoice whenever they could send a “Hollywood horse” home tourist.

It is not likely Bacharach’s horse will show up in dark glasses, gold chains and an earring. He is not a “Let’s do lunch” type, he’s a hard-knocking sort who runs on grass, glass--a “good” track--in front or behind. As a matter of fact, not even an earthquake bothers him. If a 5.3 hits Louisville on May 7, he should be an “out” price.