OAK TREE : Helmsman Steers Dollase to Stakes Sweep


The luck that trainer Wally Dollase has had in buying foreign horses won’t stop with Helmsman, who gave his 10 owners a $75,650 return Sunday by winning the $131,900 Volante Handicap at Santa Anita.

Helmsman’s two-length victory also completed a weekend sweep for Dollase and jockey Chris McCarron, who combined to win Saturday’s Linda Vista Breeders’ Cup Handicap with Jewel Princess. Dollase probably doesn’t want to see the Oak Tree season end a week from today. He has won with five of 10 starters at the meet and he and Mel Stute are tied for the stakes lead with three victories apiece.

“I’ve never won back-to-back races like this before,” Dollase said.

Virginia Carnival, a one-time $25,000 claimer who beat Helmsman by half a length in the Bay Meadows Derby on Oct. 14, ran second Sunday for his new owner, John Franks, and trainer Jack Van Berg. Ridden for the first time by Kent Desormeaux, Virginia Carnival finished four lengths in front of Mr Purple, the 3-1 second choice.


Favored Helmsman paid $7.60, running 1 1/8 miles on a firm grass course in 1:48 4/5. The El Gran Senor-Sacred Journey colt gave McCarron his eighth stakes victory of the meet, which is twice as many as anyone else.

Dollase declined to say what his group paid for Helmsman.

“But it’s been a bargain, I’ll tell you that,” the trainer said. “I’ve bought several horses in Europe and done well with all of them. It’s the only place you can go to buy horses at reasonable prices.

“We bought this one from Robert Sangster. He and some of the other top owners over there have 20 or more horses of this quality. They’re not Grade I horses, but they’re pretty good horses. We can move them up with better feed, Lasix [a bleeders’ medication that’s not legal in Europe] and then we can run them for bigger purses than what they’d be able to run for over there.”

Helmsman, who was purchased in June, is actually a Kentucky-bred whose career began in Europe. He was considered one of Ireland’s best 2-year-olds, in 1994, but his first season was cut short because of a splint-bone injury. After winning one of five starts in Sangster’s colors, he has won two of three races for Dollase.

Helmsman never ran farther than seven furlongs in Europe.

“Based on his conformation, I always felt that he was capable of getting a mile or more,” Dollase said. “He’s got a long neck, for one thing, which usually adds up to distance.”

McCarron has ridden Helmsman for all three of his California races. In the Volante, Helmsman carried 115 pounds, a favorable impost because he had had no stakes victories in the United States. Mr Purple, winner of three stakes this year, was the high weight with 121 pounds, and of the eight starters, only Rug carried less weight than Helmsman.

Lake George, eager to run before Gary Stevens wanted him to, moved to the front as the horses began their trip down the backstretch, with Rug second and Helmsman third. Lake George took the lead at the head of the stretch, but Helmsman passed him with about an eighth of a mile lft.

“My horse was very settled today,” McCarron said. “I didn’t want him to go as early as he did, but he was doing it easy enough, which was evidenced by the way he went ahead and finished. In spite of the fact that he moved early, he still had plenty left. He’s pretty nice. I like the way he travels. He’s got a real long stride and he’s very responsive.”

Next for Helmsman is the $400,000 Hollywood Derby, another 1 1/8-mile race, on Nov. 26. It’s a race that Dollase won with Itsallgreektome in 1990.

“That race has been my plan from day one,” Dollase said. “The spacing between races is real good.”

Horse Racing Notes

Chris McCarron, who’ll ride heavily favored Best Pal in Saturday’s California Cup Classic, will have a shot at the Oak Tree stakes record, which was set when Kent Desormeaux won nine added-money races in 1992. McCarron is also scheduled to ride Alpride in the Yellow Ribbon on Sunday. . . . Best Pal’s rivals are expected to be Luthier Fever, Geenger Man, Goldigger’s Dream, B. Charlie, Flying Sensation and Oncefortheroad. . . . The stewards gave Desormeaux a three-day suspension “for crossing over without sufficient clearance” while riding Ski Dancer in Saturday’s Linda Vista. Ski Dancer finished third. Desormeaux, whose days are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, was scheduled to ride Lakeway Saturday in the $200,000 Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs. . . . Before Shemaran’s fifth-place finish in the Volante, trainer Rodney Rash had told Japan Cup officials that his colt wouldn’t be running in $4.4-million race on Nov. 26. The dropout by Shemaran leaves four North American representatives--Sandpit, Turk Passer, Awad and Lassigny--in the race. . . . Soul Of The Matter, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, suffered another hoof injury and will be out of action for two months. . . . Hennessy, second to Unbridled’s Song in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, will probably run in the $500,000 Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 17.