Rather than send Sharp Cat to Kentucky for the $250,000 Falls City Handicap on Thanksgiving Day, trainer Wayne Lukas kept the daughter of Storm Cat home, awaiting the less lucrative Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Lukas and his star 3-year-old filly were almost left without a race because the Bayakoa, a Grade II with a $100,000 purse, was in danger of being canceled for lack of entries. Only eight fillies and mares were nominated and only Sharp Cat was ever termed a definite participant.
But trainer Ron McAnally, who has won the Bayakoa four times--it was called the Silver Belles Handicap from 1981-1993--entered Toda Una Dama and Alzora Friday morning, so the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa will go as the first race on Sunday.
Still, only one of McAnally’s fillies is expected to start over what figures to be a sloppy or muddy track. A 3-year-old daughter of Seattle Slew, Alzora has won three of seven. Toda Una Dama, who was bred in Argentina, has won four of seven in the United States.
Had McAnally decided not to enter his pair, the Bayakoa, had it been run as a walkover for Sharp Cat, would have made history.
Since 1913, there have been 33 walkovers--one-horse races--in racing, but none in California. The last horse to win a walkover was Chinese Export in a $1,500 allowance race in 1982 in Pennsylvania. Before that, Spectacular Bid had no challengers when he won the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park in 1980.
Walkover or not, Lukas is happy the Bayakoa is on because, he said, Sharp Cat is ready.
“She’s ready to roll,” he said. “We need to run her.
“I think it’s a bad precedent to ever cancel a stakes race, especially if it’s a graded stakes because it could lose its graded status.”
This will be the first outing for Sharp Cat since she was second to Ajina in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff a month ago. Pressured early by longshot Radu Cool, she couldn’t hold back Ajina late and was beaten by two lengths as the favorite.
The Distaff was her fourth loss in five tries at 1 1/8 miles, but she has fared much better at the Bayakoa distance, winning four of six.
Owned by Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corp., Sharp Cat will remain in training as a 4-year-old and will be pointed for Santa Anita’s three-race La Canada series.
A victory Sunday might enable Lukas to add to his lead in the national money standings. Through Dec. 2, his stable had earned $9,900,146, leaving him more than $500,000 ahead of runner-up Bill Mott. He is trying to win the title for the 14th time in the last 15 years.
“We’ve had a good, solid year,” Lukas said. “We’ve won  Grade I’s [three by Sharp Cat] and Marlin’s development was good for us. I’m very comfortable with what we’ve accomplished.”
Ryafan, who wrapped up the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top female turf performer with a victory in the $700,000 Matriarch last Sunday, has been retired.
Owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, the 3-year-old Lear Fan filly was shipped from Hollywood Park to Kentucky earlier this week and will later be sent to England to be bred to Zafonic, a champion stallion.
Raced and trained in Europe by John Gosden for most of her 10-race career, Ryafan finished with seven victories and earnings of more than $1.3 million. She was unbeaten in three starts in the United States, winning the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland and the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita before the Matriarch, which was her only start for trainer Bobby Frankel.
“She retired at the top of her game,” said Frankel, who also trained Wandesta and Possibly Perfect, the last two Eclipse winners in the female turf category. “Just like the other two, I think we’d all like to see them retired as a champion. I’m happy they did it, even though I’d obviously like to have her around.
“She’s done everything asked of her. They’re just not taking any chances with her. If we had decided to run her next year, she wouldn’t have run until the summer anyway, to get ready for the Yellow Ribbon and Matriarch.”
After being beaten in her first two starts of 1997, Ryafan finished with five consecutive victories, two in England before she arrived in America.
Swiss Yodeler, who didn’t make the starting lineup for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, will try to remain unbeaten on the Hollywood Park main track in the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes today.
Owned by Heinz Steinmann and trained by Mike Harrington, Swiss Yodeler will be making his first start as a 3-year-old on the Hollywood Park dirt after going five for five last year. Included among his victories were the Hollywood Juvenile Championship and the Hollywood Futurity, his only one around two turns.
The Eastern Echo colt drew the outside post in the small field, which also includes, from the inside out, Gold Land, Hail The Hero, who is also entered in an allowance race on Sunday; Trafalger, Tower Full and Hal’s Pal.
Horse Racing Notes
The Bayakoa wasn’t the only stakes race that had trouble attracting horses. The $50,000 Albany Handicap, which was scheduled for today at Golden Gate Fields, was postponed until Dec. 21 because only two horses, All A Con and Tolemeo, were entered in the six-furlong race. . . . Patrick Byrne, who won two Breeders’ Cup races with two contenders for Eclipse awards, Favorite Trick and Countess Diana, was selected Trainer of the Year by the United Thoroughbred Trainers of America. . . . Ralph Scurfield was unanimously reelected as chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, a position he has held since 1992.