Lakota Brave could become the first 8-year-old to win a Breeders' Cup race, but first trainer Bruce Headley's brittle gelding must survive today's $150,000 Ancient Title Handicap at Santa Anita.
Survival has been what Lakota Brave's career has been all about. "This is his fourth comeback," Headley said. "He didn't even run his first race until he was four."
When Headley's horse sporadically has returned to the track, he has been reliable. Going into the six-furlong Ancient Title, the same distance as the $1-million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park four weeks from today, Lakota Brave has won eight times, and with five other in-the-money finishes in 17 starts, he has earned more than $400,000.
"I gallop him in the mornings, and he's as sharp as he's ever been," Headley said. "He squeals every day to get to the track."
In the seven-horse Ancient Title, Lakota Brave is the high weight at 120 pounds. Also running is another comebacker, Larry The Legend, a 5-year-old who hasn't won since the Santa Anita Derby in 1995.
The $250,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap is also on today's card, and on Sunday Marlin, winner of the Arlington Million in his last start, faces only four rivals in the $300,000 Oak Tree Turf Championship at 1 1/4 miles. The field also includes Lord Jain, Rainbow Dancer, Expelled and Sandpit, who won the stake in 1994, when the distance was 1 1/2 miles, before finishing second in 1995. Sandpit, another 8-year-old, finished second, a half-length behind Marlin, in the Arlington Million.
Lakota Brave will be making his third start in the Ancient Title. "He ought to be going for his third win," said Headley, recalling the horse's unfortunate start in 1995 when he hopped in the air as the gates opened, all but dumping Alex Solis. Lakota Brave, the 3-2 favorite, came from last place, 13 lengths behind, to lose by two.
Last year, with Eddie Delahoussaye aboard, Lakota Brave's trip was trouble-free and he won by 1 1/4 lengths over favored Letthebighossroll, earning a ticket to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Woodbine. In Canada, pretty much running on three good legs, Lakota Brave finished fifth as Lit De Justice beat him by three lengths.
"He got sandwiched by a couple of horses at about the three-eighths pole," Headley said. "He came out of the race dead lame. I thought sure he'd fractured an ankle, but it turned out to be a real bad sprain."
That left Lakota Brave out of action for five months. He emerged late this summer, to win twice under Delahoussaye at Del Mar despite awkward starts.
"I like the fit with Eddie D.," Headley said. "He wins more races without using the whip than any jockey I've ever seen."
Headley isn't saying that his horse would have beaten Lit De Justice, but he thought Lakota Brave would have been battling at the wire at Woodbine. Lit De Justice, voted champion sprinter, has been retired, and Richter Scale is Roxy Roxborough's lukewarm 9-2 favorite for this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Roxborough, a Las Vegas oddsmaker, has Lakota Brave at 8-1.
In 13 years, only three 8-year-olds--Truce Maker, last in the 1986 Turf; Cardmania, third in the 1994 Sprint; and Friendly Lover, 11th in the 1996 Sprint--have run in the Breeders' Cup. In 1993, at Santa Anita, Cardmania won the Sprint, becoming the oldest winner of a Breeders' Cup race. Three weeks before, the 7-year-old gelding had prepped for the big day by winning the Ancient Title over the same track.
Horse Racing Notes
Trainer Richard Mandella got a double dose of good news from Gentlemen this week. On Tuesday, in his first workout since he bombed in the Woodbine Mile, the 5-year-old worked five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 at Hollywood Park. Two days later, a scoping after a morning gallop showed that his ulcerated throat is healing. To run in the $4-million Breeders' Cup Classic, Gentlemen's owners, who include Hollywood Park chairman R.D. Hubbard, must ante up a supplementary payment of $800,000. . . . Roxy Roxborough has made Formal Gold the 3-1 favorite for the Classic. Gentlemen is 4-1 and Touch Gold 5-1. . . . Other early favorites: Singspiel, 7-2 in the Turf; Spinning World, 3-1 in the Mile; Twice The Vice, 7-2 in the Distaff; Favorite Trick, 5-2 in the Juvenile; and Countess Diana, 5-2 in the Juvenile Fillies.
Richard Eamer of Mandysland Farm, who owns 45% of Deputy Commander, says that he nixed the deal that would have sold 25% of the colt to Brereton Jones for $1.25 million. Owner of Airdrie Stud in Midway, Ky., and a former Kentucky governor, Jones has filed suit against the owners of Deputy Commander and trainer Wally Dollase, charging them with fraud and breach of contract. "Wally may have met with Jones, but he's not my agent," Eamer said. "I've got a right of first refusal in any sale of the horse, and I exercised it." On legal advice, Dollase wouldn't address the specifics of the suit. "All I can say is welcome to Kentucky," Dollase said. "The whole thing is ridiculous. Unbelievable. In all my years in racing, I've never been sued. We have had a lot of phone calls about this horse, but he's not for sale." After winning the Travers and the Super Derby, Deputy Commander has shaken up the 3-year-old division. Dollase has talked about moving the colt to grass, but Eamer is bullish about running in the Breeders' Cup Classic. If Deputy Commander does run, Chris McCarron, who also rides Touch Gold, will have to make a difficult decision. In filing his suit, Jones said: "It is regrettable that a verbal agreement and a handshake are not honored by some of the most successful people in our business."
On Sunday at Keeneland, McCarron rides Listening, who will try to give trainer Ron McAnally his fifth win in the stake in the last nine years. . . . Exotic Wood, Twice The Vice's stablemate, is being aimed for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. . . . Pulpit, who hasn't run since he chipped a knee in the Kentucky Derby, has been retired. . . . The purses for the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes will be raised to $1 million apiece next year, catching up with the Kentucky Derby. . . . Countess Diana battles the unbeaten Beautiful Pleasure today in the Alcibiades at Keeneland. . . . The only Breeders' Cup Turf possibility from the Arc de Triomphe is Oscar Schindler, who finished fourth.