When Alphabet Soup hit the wire a nose ahead of Louis Quatorze and a head better than Cigar in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the most surprised person at Woodbine was Georgia Ridder, the smallish owner of the smallish roan.
The 81-year-old Pasadena matriarch all but threw away her cane in reaching the winner's circle. Alphabet Soup had been 19-1.
Five weeks later, Georgia Ridder is still overcome by the outcome.
"I had no idea we would win," she said. "I figured that we might finish second or third. We were fortunate in many ways. This wasn't the old Cigar that we were running against. Skip Away, who was frightfully good at the end of the year, didn't run. And Louis Quatorze, I won't be too keen about meeting him again.
"But our little fellow has a heart of iron. It's sacrilegious, beating a horse like Cigar, isn't it? But if somebody was going to do it, I'm glad it was us."
It is ironic that two of the best horses the Ridder family has raced--Alphabet Soup and Cascapedia, the champion older filly or mare of 1977--were bought privately instead of being home-breds. Ben Ridder, who died in 1983, was always more confident breeding horses than buying them.
"When Ben told me he was going into the breeding business, it horrified me," Georgia Ridder said of her late husband. "But now I have four mares, including Cascapedia, and I'm busy planning their matings for the coming breeding season. I wouldn't be able to get by without this sport. You can't just sit around and play bridge all the time."
All by himself, Alphabet Soup has vaulted the Ridder stable into sixth place nationally in purses. Of the barn's $3.1 million in earnings, $2.5 million has been won by "Alphy," and his Breeders' Cup victory accounted for $2.08 million of his total. The stables ahead of Georgia Ridder--Cigar's owner, Allen Paulson, leads with $8.8 million--have run horses in 300 to 800 races. Ridder's modest band has run 47 times.
Ben Ridder was a third-generation newspaper publisher, and fittingly it was the power of advertising--and the alertness of his wife--that led him to Cascapedia.
"I was reading the Blood-Horse magazine one day," Georgia Ridder said. "I saw this double-page ad saying that Raymond Guest was selling these two fillies who were regally bred. I showed the ad to Ben quite casually, and he leaped at it. We didn't pay very much."
The price has been reported as $75,000.
"They sent them out to California on the train, and we met them at the station," Ridder said. "Cascapedia was not a beautiful horse, but she could run."
Trainer David Hofmans remembers the young Alphabet Soup as another horse who wouldn't catch your eye.
"He was a tiny, dumpy guy," he said.
Alphabet Soup was also bought in a two-horse package, costing Ridder just under $100,000. Hofmans can't even remember the name of the other horse, but he was a son of Wild Again, winner of the first Breeders' Cup Classic, and he never made it to the races.
Alphabet Soup is scheduled to run again next year, as a 6-year-old, and Hofmans said this week his first start will be at Santa Anita on Jan. 12 in the San Pasqual Handicap, a race he won last year. The early goal is the Santa Anita Handicap.
"This was a horse that was rejected at the sales," Georgia Ridder said. "He's been lightly raced [23 starts] his whole career, and Dave is so good at working with horses that need a lot of space between their races."
Hofmans, who also trains Dramatic Gold for John and Betty Mabee, has run horses that have earned $5.2 million this year, which ranks him fifth in the country, behind Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott, Richard Mandella and Nick Zito. Hofmans will saddle another Ridder horse, Cat's Cradle, in Sunday's $100,000 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Cat's Cradle is a 4-year-old daughter of Flying Paster, who earned $1.1 million for the Ridders despite the drawback of being from the same generation as Spectacular Bid.
Like Alphabet Soup, Cat's Cradle has needed special handling. She was one of the best 3-year-old fillies in 1995 but injured an ankle after winning the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park and didn't run for almost a year. This year, Cat's Cradle has had trouble winning, but she furnished a nice Ridder-Hofmans sequel to the Breeders' Cup by winning the California Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
Ridder, who had undergone knee-replacement surgery earlier this year, had discarded her cane by then.
She bought Cat's Cradle's dam, Tangled, for $90,000 at a 1989 auction.
"Cat's Cradle is the gamest little thing," she said. "She has Flying Paster's heart. She's a loner around the barn. She won't let you pet her, but she's still my baby."
Horse Racing Notes
Paying Dues, who finished second behind Lit De Justice in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, is the high weight at 124 pounds Saturday in the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park. . . . Others running in the six-furlong race are Moving Tribute, Minjinsky, Hit The Roof, Men's Exclusive, Kern Ridge and Criollito, who was 12th in the Breeders' Cup.
Luna Wells, the 3-year-old filly who finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Turf, has been sold in Newmarket, England, for $3 million, the highest price paid for a horse at auction this year. Luna Wells was bought through an agent who did not name his client. She is expected to run in California in 1997.