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SANTA ANITA : Experience Not Lacking in Field for San Carlos

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ages of the first two horses in the starting gate for Sunday’s $150,000 San Carlos Handicap total 18 years.

“Wouldn’t it be great to see those two old guys run 1-2?” Helen Meredith said. “With Cardmania first, of course.”

Trainer Derek Meredith’s wife and assistant trainer and the exercise rider for Cardmania, she was talking about her horse and Softshoe Sure Shot, who are each 9-year-olds. In a field of 10, Softshoe Sure Shot drew the rail. On the other side of Cardmania, in the No. 3 hole, will be Letthebighossroll, a 7-year-old. If Tom Knust, the Santa Anita racing secretary, ever wrote a race for 7 and up, the trainers of these three veteran geldings would be the first to enter.

“It’s nice to see a few of these old horses around,” Helen Meredith said. “Especially when they’ve stayed sound.”

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Combined, they have run in 153 races, with Cardmania having the most starts (70), the most victories (16), the most earnings ($1.4 million) and the biggest honor (an Eclipse Award for best sprinter in 1993).

He will carry 120 pounds for the seven furlongs, two pounds less than his assignment last year when he beat The Wicked North, at 117 pounds, in the San Carlos. Others running are Finder’s Fortune, Concept Win, Subtle Trouble, D’Hallevant, Powis Castle, Polar Route and Kingdom Found, with Powis Castle and Kingdom Found, who drew posts 8 and 10, doubtful if Santa Anita gets more rain.

A victory by either Cardmania or Softshoe Sure Shot would thrust him into rare company at Santa Anita. This is the track’s 58th season, and only three stakes have been won by 9-year-olds--Super Diamond in the 1989 San Antonio Handicap, Desert Chief III in the 1965 San Marcos Handicap and Olhaverry in the 1948 San Pasqual Handicap.

Cardmania’s San Carlos victory last year came on the heels of his biggest victory, by a neck over the filly Meafara in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. Since the 1993 San Carlos, the Merediths’ horse has run only three times, finishing fourth and second in California races and running third, beaten by less than two lengths, behind Cherokee Run and Soviet Problem in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.

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Cardmania’s career was threatened last February, when he suffered a broken cannon bone in his left hind leg during a gallop at Hollywood Park. Veterinarian Doug Herthel repaired the break with two screws during an operation at the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center north of Santa Barbara.

Cardmania recuperated in the Merediths’ back yard in El Monte and returned to the track in July to begin another Breeders’ Cup campaign.

“Looking at his leg, you can’t even tell that there was anything wrong,” Helen Meredith said. “Older horses get sour sometimes, but not him. He still wants to run.”

Said Derek Meredith: “He doesn’t look his age. Sometimes you see an old horse and you can tell right away that they’re old. This one has young eyes, and he acts like a youngster sometimes, doing silly things.”

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Cardmania, already the oldest Breeders’ Cup winner when he won at Santa Anita as a 7-year-old, went into last year’s six-furlong Sprint after only one prep, which came following a nine-month layoff. The track was fast but damp at Churchill Downs, not suited for a horse with a come-from-behind style. Cardmania, sent off at 22-1, was in 12th place after a half-mile, and then he and Eddie Delahoussaye circled the field.

“He wasn’t gripping the track,” Helen Meredith said. “He also got a lot of mud in his face. It was the kind of mud that sticks. I’ve never seen him so muddy after a race.”

There will probably be more mud to contend with Sunday, but Cardmania has overcome an off track at Santa Anita. In 1992, making his 45th start but only the fifth away from grass, he splashed home a winner in the Potrero Grande Handicap. Delahoussaye, who has ridden Cardmania in his last six starts, including the Breeders’ Cup victory, has been sick this week, missing two days of riding, but he’s expected to be back Sunday.

Softshoe Sure Shot would appear to be over-reaching in the San Carlos. Trainer Bruce Headley’s horse, who has won 15 of 45 starts and earned almost $500,000, hasn’t won since running for a $62,500 claiming price at Del Mar last summer.

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But Helen Meredith isn’t throwing him out. She has a place in her heart for 9-year-olds, even if they’re not hers. “He’s in light with only 113 pounds,” she said. “He’s a tough old horse.”

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Horse Racing Notes

There’s only one standard for 9-year-olds: John Henry. In 1984, his 9-year-old season, John Henry completed a seven-Eclipse Award career and was voted horse of the year after winning the Golden Gate Handicap at Golden Gate Fields, the Hollywood Turf Handicap and the Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Arlington Million, the Turf Classic at Belmont Park and the Ballantine Handicap at the Meadowlands. He finished second, third and fifth in his other starts that year.

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According to the Bay Meadows racing office, there’s an 80-20 chance that Timber Country will make his first appearance as a 3-year-old in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at the San Mateo track a week from today. Timber Country’s trainer, Wayne Lukas, won the 1 1/16-mile El Camino Real last year with Tabasco Cat and with Tank’s Prospect in 1985. Both of those colts went on to win the Preakness. . . . Timber Country, winner of four of seven races last year, including the Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, worked six furlongs in the mud at Santa Anita Friday in 1:15. He’s expected to be named best 2-year-old colt Thursday when the Eclipse Awards divisional champions are announced. . . . The announcement for horse of the year (Holy Bull, that is) is scheduled for Jan. 27. . . . Looie Cenicola saddled three winners Friday, including Stoller, the British import who won the feature for his first victory in the United States.


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