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DEL MAR : Bertrando Will Run the Same No Matter What Owner Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“John (Shirreffs) is a low-key guy,” Eddie Nahem was saying. “He doesn’t like the limelight.”

On one hand, Shirreffs is with the wrong horse if he plans to blend in with the scenery.

But on the other, he’s with the right owner, because if Bertrando should repeat as the winner of the $1-million Pacific Classic here Saturday, there will be only one speech maker. Nahem will say enough to cover both his trainer and his partner, Marshall Naify.

After Bertrando had won the Wickerr Stakes here on July 28, he interrupted his winner’s-circle speech by beckoning the 73-year-old Naify, who was far in the background.

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“Wait a minute,” Nahem said. “Let’s get the other owner over here.”

Naify, a small, soft-spoken man, made a few hesitant steps in Nahem’s direction. Then Nahem continued talking, nonstop, about Bertrando. Naify might have been in the picture, but he was still out of the conversation.

Shirreffs and Naify are opposites of the ebullient Nahem, and this may be the right mix for the group that runs Bertrando. Of the 5-year-old horse’s previous two trainers, Bruce Headley was too much of a horseman to be along for the ride, and Bobby Frankel, a New Yorker like Nahem and just as opinionated, couldn’t countenance the scheme of sending Bertrando to stud this year and then bringing him back to the races.

Bertrando, however, would probably run the same if he were racing for the Three Stooges. In all but one of his 17 starts--the first race he ever ran--he has been in front at the first call. Seven of his eight victories have been wire to wire. John and Betty Mabee, who own Best Pal, Saturday’s 2-1 morning-line favorite, are also running another fast horse, Dramatic Gold, whose job may be to soften up Bertrando if he can.

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“I guess that’s what they hope to do,” Nahem said. “But it won’t be the first time there’s a big race and somebody threw a rabbit in there. And this one’s for a million dollars. I still think we’ll be in front going into the first turn.”

Averaging almost $180,000 a start, Bertrando has earned $3 million and an Eclipse Award. He had enough earlier achievements to be voted best older horse last year, even though Arcangues out-finished him by two lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Best Pal has earned $4.7 million and has yet to win an Eclipse, having been beaten in his closest shot by Pleasant Tap for best older horse in 1992, 154-115.

Bertrando’s career started at Del Mar, not far from where Nahem and the multimillionaire Naify live, and he’s unbeaten at the seaside track, having won three races on dirt before the Wickerr. His maiden victory, in his first start on Aug. 25, 1991, marked the only time he was headed by another horse before winning, and less than three weeks later, after he was supplemented for $10,000, he won the Del Mar Futurity.

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Bertrando didn’t run at Del Mar again until last year, when he won the Pacific Classic in 1:59 2/5, chopping two-fifths of a second off the track record that Best Pal set two years before when he won the first Classic.

Nahem bred Bertrando, through a mating of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Skywalker and Gentle Hands, a mare that Nahem claimed after a 1982 race for $50,000. Gentle Hands, who died in 1991, won two races and earned $40,000. At the outset of Bertrando’s career, Bruce Headley’s teen-age son, Gus, was listed as one of Bertrando’s owners. After Headley was dropped as trainer, in October of 1992, there were some behind-the-scenes legal negotiations that prevented an ownership issue from going to court.

Both of Saturday’s contenders are going into the Pacific Classic off only one prep race, Best Pal having won at seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 22 and Bertrando at a mile on grass in the Wickerr.

At first glance, Best Pal would seem to have the fitness edge for running 1 1/4 miles. His trainer, Richard Mandella, was giving him mile workouts before he ran, and Best Pal also ran a couple of races this winter at Santa Anita, while Bertrando, after recovering from arthroscopic surgery for a chipped knee, was spending his time at River Edge Farm near Buellton, getting 58 mares in foal.

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“We think we’ve got enough (conditioning) underneath him,” Nahem said. “They did a good job with him at the farm, and they started galloping him six days a week when it was almost time to get back into training. He had had many slow gallops by the time I got him the middle of May.”

Shirreffs, who was trainer Bill Spawr’s off-track trainer and who also worked for Brian Mayberry, might be the trainer of record, but when Bertrando goes to the post Saturday, he will have Nahem’s fingerprints all over him. When Nahem announced that Frankel was out, the co-owner said that he would take over Bertrando’s training, and now he’s disappointed that his license hasn’t been issued.

He said that he has passed the trainer’s test, and suggests that the stewards are dragging their feet. But he won’t say anything more about the matter until after Saturday’s race. A quiet Eddie Nahem is something to see.

Horse Racing Notes

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Best Pal and Alysheba are the only horses to win three races worth $1 million or more. Alysheba’s victories were in the $1-million Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in 1987 and the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap and the $3-million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, both in 1988. . . . Laffit Pincay, who has 13 wins in $1-million races, more than any other jockey, rides 15-1 Stuka in the Pacific Classic. . . . Gary Baze, a recent addition to the Del Mar riding colony, has the assignment on Risen Roman, who has never run on dirt and is winless since a victory in France in March. Baze, the brother-in-law of Gary Stevens, rode at Del Mar in 1987 and won stakes with Miss Alto and Bold Second.

Embroidered, who was 65-1 when she ran second to Serena’s Song in the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park, hooks up with trainer Wayne Lukas’ 2-year-old filly again in today’s Sorrento. . . . In another race on the Pacific Classic card Saturday, Magical Maiden makes her 1994 debut in the $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Breeders’ Cup Handicap. Magical Maiden, seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November, is the high weight at 120 pounds in the 6 1/2-furlong race. She won two stakes at Del Mar last year. . . . Lure, whose only two losses this year came against Paradise Creek, gets another chance today in the $100,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga. Paradise Creek is undefeated in six starts this year and will carry 126 pounds, one more than Lure.


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