After coming down from his base at Emerald Downs in Washington to saddle Stolen Gold last July 25 at Del Mar, trainer Mike Puhich had a long plane ride back to Seattle.
In the second race of his career, Stolen Gold, a chestnut son of Conquistador Cielo, had stumbled shortly after the start, looked beaten at several points during the race but recovered and held off favored Echo Dancer to win by a head.
What bummed Puhich was that the colt had been claimed for $50,000 by trainer Bob Hess Jr.
“You have to give credit to [Hess],” Puhich said. “He did his homework. The horse had trouble in his first race [finishing sixth on May 26 at Hollywood Park] and he had been bothered by sore shins. We [Puhich and owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood] took a shot [running him in a claimer] and we were heartsick when we lost him.
“We said that if they ran him back for $62,500 or $80,000, we’d try to claim him back.”
Puhich and the Kirkwoods didn’t have to wait long to get Stolen Gold back. Three days later, the colt was returned to the trainer’s barn at Del Mar.
Stewards Dennis Nevin, George Slender and Dave Samuel voided Hess’ claim of Stolen Gold because the name of only one owner, Ron Gomez, was written on the original claim slip that was approved. The name of a second, Ron More, was added not long before the deadline for claims--15 minutes before post time--without authorization.
Hess still believes the claim should have been allowed. He said he was told by the stewards’ secretary at Del Mar that it was OK to add More’s name and he thought that was enough. Samuel said he needed direct approval from the stewards.
The entire development came as a surprise to Puhich, who got the word in Washington from trainer Alan May, who was taking care of Puhich’s string at Del Mar, and has turned out to be his gain and Hess’ loss.
In five starts since the claim that wasn’t, Stolen Gold has won twice, run second in the Hollywood Futurity, finished third once and is the 7-2 second choice in the $100,000 San Vicente Stakes today at Santa Anita.
One of the preps for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5, the seven-furlong San Vicente will mark the 1997 debut of Del Mar Futurity hero Silver Charm and the stakes debut of Funontherun, an impressive, 11-length maiden winner on Jan. 5.
Stolen Gold will be making his first start since missing by half a length to Swiss Yodeler in the Hollywood Futurity. Where he goes from the San Vicente depends on how he fares today, but he will probably try, for the time being, to avoid Hello.
"[The San Vicente] is a major step in the direction of where we hope to go [the Santa Anita Derby],” Puhich said. “We freshened him up after the Hollywood Futurity. I would have liked to have gotten a couple of more works into him.
“We’re hoping to get a good effort out of him to set him up for the spring. . . . There are so many options out there. We’ll go one race at a time.
“I might be biased, but I wouldn’t trade him for any of the Derby contenders out there right now. That’s how much I think of him.”
Purchased at the Keeneland yearling sale in September 1995, on the recommendation of veterinarian John Traber, Stolen Gold has matured during the time off, according to Puhich.
“He’s not a very big horse, but he’s durable and he’s really filled out,” he said. “He’s put on about 50 pounds and he’s getting broader. He’s starting to look like a stud horse.
Versatility has been Stolen Gold’s primary asset. He has won twice sprinting, but he also won going a mile on the turf and rallied after being seventh early to finish 4 1/2 lengths clear of the highly regarded In Excessive Bull in the Hollywood Futurity.
Gary Stevens will be aboard for the first time today and they drew Post 8 in the field of nine.
The rest of the San Vicente field includes Free House, seventh as the 2-1 favorite in the Golden Gate Derby last month; Esteemed Friend, who will race coupled with Silver Charm since both are owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis; Celtic Warrior, Photarc, Red and Latin Dancer.
Horse Racing Notes
Skip Away is the 9-5 against nine opponents in the $300,000 Donn Handicap today at Florida’s Gulfstream Park. Set to carry 123 pounds, the 4-year-old son of Skip Trial will be racing for the first time since he beat Cigar in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last Oct. 5. . . . The 1 1/8-mile Donn will be simulcast between the fourth and fifth races at Santa Anita.
Trainer Jerry Fanning was fined $300 for a medication violation. The horse involved was Silver Bandit, who finished second in the fourth race at Santa Anita on Jan. 15. . . . Jockey R.V. Torres was suspended for three days for interference entering the far turn while riding Metuchen Mensch in Thursday’s eighth race.
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This Weekend’s Racing
* Thoroughbreds, Santa Anita, featuring $100,000 San Vicente Stakes, first post 12:30 p.m.
* Harness racing, Los Alamitos, 6:15 p.m.
* Thoroughbreds, Santa Anita, featuring $200,000 La Canada Stakes, first post noon.
* Harness racing, Los Alamitos, 6:15 p.m.