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French Import Making His Mark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A punching bag most of the year for Europe’s horse of the year, Martiniquais has landed in California, where the living is relatively easy.

Here, the 4-year-old colt doesn’t have to be the regular workout target for Peintre Celebre, which was Martiniquais’ main role for trainer Andre Fabre in France. Martiniquais deserved a smattering of credit when stablemate Peintre Celebre won the Arc de Triomphe and was voted the European champion.

Martiniquais, making his second start in the U.S., won Sunday’s $165,300 San Gabriel Handicap by a half-length over Bienvenido. The past-performance lines in the Daily Racing Form show that Martiniquais only raced twice this year in France, but because of those many strenuous morning exercises with Peintre Celebre, he’s a well-seasoned horse.

“We got beat by a good horse,” said Ron McAnally, who trains Bienvenido. “He came [within three lengths] of Geri last time, and that’s a sign of a tough horse.”

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Trainer Bobby Frankel bought Martiniquais for Edmund Gann of Rancho Santa Fe in October, the week of the Arc. In his first start for Frankel, Nov. 29 at Hollywood Park, Martiniquais finished third as Geri won the Citation Handicap. In that race, Martiniquais had poor position early, blowing a shoe as he came out of the gate.

“He got beat up pretty good over there, running as the pace-setter for Peintre Celebre,” Frankel said. “Now he’s got a new lease on life.”

Carrying 116 pounds, two less than the high-weighted Talloires, favored Martiniquais and jockey Corey Nakatani covered 1 1/8 miles on the grass course in 1:48 2/5 and paid $5.20. Bienvenido, racing close to the pace throughout, finished a half-length ahead of Da Bull; Prize Giving was fourth in the eight- horse field.

Martiniquais was ahead of only one horse after the first half-mile, but moved up methodically around the turn and pushed to the front with an eighth of a mile left.

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“Last time,” Nakatani said, “he wasn’t even running the first part of the race, probably because his shoe was falling off. I think he could develop into one of the best grass horses in the country. He puts himself into the race on the backside. I think he wants to go on in distance. He keeps on getting better.”

A smallish colt with three white stockings, the Irish-bred Martiniquais has won six of 12 starts. Sunday’s win was worth $99,180.

Nakatani has won the San Gabriel three of the last four years, his other two wins coming with Romarin in 1995-96. Last year Nakatani didn’t have a mount. Frankel hadn’t won the San Gabriel since 1975, when Zanthe finished first in the colors of the movie director Martin Ritt.

“Nothing in between, huh,” Frankel said. “I think Zanthe was a horse I had claimed for $16,000.”

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Horse Racing Notes

Liquid Gold, a $900,000 purchase at auction earlier this year, broke his maiden in his first try for trainer Wally Dollase, who’s batting about .500 with 2-year-olds this year. The son of Woodman ran twice for Wayne Lukas, whose $800,000 yearling, Magic Cat, finished ninth as a first-time starter in Sunday’s race. . . . Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that he’ll run Silver Charm in the San Fernando on Jan. 17. “He could run next week,” Baffert said. “He only ran about an eighth of a mile [while finishing second to Lord Grillo in Friday’s Malibu].” . . . Baffert plans to run Real Quiet, the Hollywood Futurity winner, in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Catalina on Feb. 1. “I don’t understand the stakes program for 3-year-olds here,” Baffert said. “The next races in the series are shorter distances. So after the Santa Catalina, you’ve got to wait until the middle of March, or go out of town. I thought they might change this, but they haven’t.” . . . Stuart Conrad, a first-time starter, was 30-1 on the morning line for the fourth race, but at the first flash on the tote he was bet down to even money. Someone apparently had bet $5,000 across the board on the colt. He went off at 12-1 and finished last. . . . Santa Anita will race Tuesday, when Chile Chatte is the 5-2 favorite in the $90,000 Reloy Handicap. . . . For Wednesday’s feature, the $150,000 California Breeders’ Championship for 2-year-old fillies, Lazy Slusan will ship in from Northern California, where she’s won three straight.


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