Walkover Upstaged by Triple Dead Heat
Minutes after Sharp Cat won the first walkover at a major racetrack in 17 years, R.D. Hubbard, the chairman of Hollywood Park, entered the winner’s circle, more chagrined than cheerful.
“We’ve made history,” Hubbard said Sunday. “But it’s the wrong kind of history.”
An hour and a half later, Hollywood Park qualified for a more positive page in racing’s record book when three $8,000 claimers hit the wire at the same time, making for a rare dead heat for win, the first at Hollywood Park in 40 years.
“A walkover and a triple dead heat the same day,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “That’s a million-to-one shot.”
More like a trillion to one. Thoroughbred racing in California had never had a one-horse walkover, and the sketchy history of triple dead heats indicates that Sunday’s was the first anywhere since three horses shared the win spot at Belmont Park in 1991.
“That’s the great thing about racing, you never know for sure what is going to happen,” said Hollywood Park steward Pete Pedersen, who has been associated with racing for 60 years. “Strange things happen and here you have two incredible things in one day. That’s why you’re in the business.”
Sharp Cat’s lonesome run-around in the Bayakoa Stakes, the first race on the card, produced no mutuel payoffs, two scratches having reduced the race to one with no betting.
Contrast that with the fourth-race triple dead heat, which resulted in three sets of win-place-show payoffs and 18 payoffs for exotic bets.
Placing judges looked at the photo of the finish and couldn’t separate Cool Miss Ann on the rail, Chans Pearl on the outside and the tiring mare between them, Tina Celesta.
The outcome in the seven-horse field accounted for some strange payoffs.
Tina Celesta, ridden by J.G. Matos, paid $2.60, $2.80 and $3; Chans Pearl, with Omar Berrio aboard, returned $2.80, $3 and $2.80; and Cool Miss Ann, ridden by Matt Garcia, paid $4, $4 and $4.20. Chans Pearl was claimed out of the race and switched from trainer Rick Berry to Mel Stute.
The last triple dead heat for win at Hollywood came on July 3, 1957, when Joe’s Pleasure, Challenger Tom and Leaful could not be separated at the wire in a claiming race.
According to the American Racing Manual and other sources, there have been only 20 triple dead heats for win since 1940. Before Sunday, there had been only three in 15 years.
The three distaffers, who ran 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:31 on a track listed as muddy by Hollywood Park and wet-fast by the Daily Racing Form, earned $2,453.33 apiece. In the Bayakoa, a Grade II race, Sharp Cat earned $60,000, with the remaining $40,000 staying in the Hollywood Park purse fund.
Eight horses had been nominated, but for various reasons, including injury, track condition, shipping considerations and the specter of Sharp Cat, only two rivals were entered and both of those, trained by Ron McAnally, stayed in the barn.
Explaining the scratches of Alzora and Toda Una Dama, McAnally said: “It’ll be a long year next year, and I didn’t want to run them in the mud. I said all along there was a chance I’d scratch both fillies because of the rain. If it had been a more important race, I would have run them.”
Richard Mulhall, who manages the racing operation for Prince Ahmed Salman, owner of Sharp Cat, couldn’t fathom why McAnally didn’t run.
“I think it’s foolish,” Mulhall said. “It was a chance to finish second in a Grade II race. A chance to be second with a filly in a Grade II ought to be something worth considering.”
There was an eerie, surreal quality to the whole affair. A race listed at $100,000 as the first race on the card. A split-screen paddock, with one horse at the south end and several grooms schooling horses at the opposite end.
When jockey Alex Solis reached the paddock, he smiled, turned to a reporter and said: “OK, I’m going to let you give me my instructions today.”
“Just don’t fall off,” came the advice.
“Don’t worry,” Solis said. “I’ve got a lot of Super Glue on my saddle.”
Mulhall traded quips with assistant trainer Mike Marlow, who saddled Sharp Cat in the absence of Wayne Lukas, recovering from recent dental work.
“Maybe we can rate her today,” Mulhall said of the early speed-conscious filly. Sharp Cat, caught in fast early fractions in a duel with Radu Cool in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last month, finished second, two lengths behind Ajina.
When Sharp Cat reached the track, announcer Luke Kruytbosch didn’t vary from his usual spiel.
“Here is the field for the Bayakoa Stakes,” Kruytbosch jokingly said.
Then, finishing his rundown on Sharp Cat, the owner, trainer and jockey, he dryly added the punch line:
“That is the field for the Bayakoa Stakes.”
As Sharp Cat reached the end of 1 1/16 miles in a creditable 1:42 3/5, Solis stood in the irons, faced the small crowd and waved with his whip.
“I wasn’t going to fall off,” Solis said. “I had a good hold of her mane with the other hand.”
In the jockeys’ room, as riders always do, Solis watched a rerun.
“Hey, did you see where you got bothered at the quarter pole?” said Corey Black, another rider.
The win was the 11th in 18 starts for Sharp Cat, the purse pushing her earnings over the $1.4-million mark. This year, Sharp Cat has won seven stakes in California and New York, but the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old filly is likely to go to Ajina, who beat Lukas’ filly twice.
The last walkover before Sunday was at a hunt meet in Pennsylvania in 1982. The last walkover before that came when three horses scratched out of the Woodward Stakes, leaving Spectacular Bid and Bill Shoemaker with clear sailing at Belmont Park in 1980.
That day, there was some pre-race haggling between Harry Meyerhoff, who raced Spectacular Bid, and Belmont officials, who by their rules for a walkover had to pay only 50% of the winner’s share. Spectacular Bid still earned $73,300.
“That’s not bad,” Belmont’s Lenny Hale told Meyerhoff. “All you’re doing is giving this horse little more than a public workout.”