Like His Dad, Nationalore Works Hard for the Money
He will enter the 61st Santa Anita Derby today with the third-highest bankroll in the field, $283,767.
Only Real Quiet, the Hollywood Futurity winner, and Artax, the Santa Catalina and San Felipe winner, have earned more. And they, along with the unbeaten Indian Charlie and Orville N Wilbur’s, will be the betting favorites in Santa Anita’s main event for 3-year-olds.
Despite his earnings, Nationalore isn’t considered a threat, and a victory by him would rank among the biggest upsets in Santa Anita Derby history.
It would also be a first. Fourteen races into his career, Nationalore is still without a victory. But he probably is the richest maiden in history.
Bred in California by Korean-born owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho, 55, the brown colt has lost seven times in maiden races, once by 12 lengths to Indian Charlie in that colt’s debut last Aug. 3 at Del Mar. Even so, Nationalore has made a nice living picking up pieces in some major stakes events.
At 9-1, he ran second in the $100,000 California Sires Stakes at Santa Anita last fall. Then, 20 days later, after missing as the favorite in a maiden race, he was second at 16-1 in the $100,000 California Cup Juvenile.
In what was his fourth start in 34 days, he had his biggest payday in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Although never a threat to Favorite Trick, the eventual horse of the year, Nationalore rallied from last to finish third at 40-1, then capped his year with a third, behind Real Quiet and Artax, in the Hollywood Juvenile.
Although he already has run more races than did his sire, Video Ranger, Nationalore’s story has really been a case of the son imitating the father. The colt’s mother is Romantic Jet, a Tri Jet mare who won four times in 35 starts.
Claimed for $40,000 by Cho from owner Joseph Allen and trainer Wayne Lukas on Jan. 17, 1990, the day he broke his maiden by 13 lengths in the mud at Santa Anita, Video Ranger never won again in eight starts.
But he did earn more than $245,000 for Cho, who came to the United States in 1978 and became interested in racing. He developed an intense interest in studying bloodlines, and his research prompted him to claim Video Ranger.
A son of Cox’s Ridge, out of the Nijinsky II mare Vestris, Video Ranger earned most of his money with Ian Jory, who, along with Rafael Martinez and John Chlomos, trained for Cho until the owner got his trainer’s license about six years ago. Martinez still works for Cho.
“It was all Mr. Cho’s idea to claim [Video Ranger],” Jory said. “He loved the pedigree and Vestris was a good producer.
“He was a beautiful, big, strong horse. He was probably too big as a 2-year-old, but he started coming together as a 3-year-old.”
Second in the restricted Bradbury Stakes, Video Ranger failed to threaten in the San Felipe, so he was dismissed at 36-1, the longest shot of eight in the Santa Anita Derby.
With the late Ron Hansen in from Northern California to ride, he came from last to finish second, 4 1/2 lengths behind Mister Frisky, who improved his record to 16-0 with the victory.
That earned Video Ranger a trip to Kentucky and, although he finished 12 1/2 lengths behind Unbridled, he was fourth in the Derby at 65-1, earning $25,000 as the second-longest shot among 15 3-year-olds.
“It was [Cho’s] dream to go to the Kentucky Derby, and he would have gone no matter what happened in the Santa Anita Derby,” said Jory, who made a return trip to Churchill Downs the next year when Best Pal finished second behind Strike The Gold.
“I thought [Video Ranger] would run well in the Santa Anita Derby, but I didn’t think he’d run as well as he did. He was really coming at the end.”
To this day, both Jory and Cho believe Video Ranger should have won the $500,000 Jersey Derby at Garden State, which was run 23 days after the Kentucky Derby.
The 7-2 third choice behind Yonder and Real Cash, Video Ranger was second, a head behind Yonder.
“It was the most blatantly unfair thing I’ve ever seen in racing,” Jory said. “Yonder hit him so hard that Hansen dropped the reins, but the inquiry only took about a minute and [the stewards] didn’t take any action. It was so disgraceful.”
Whether there is another trip to the Kentucky Derby in store for Cho depends on how Nationalore fares today. The colt’s owner and trainer says he needs to finish in the top three to earn a trip to Louisville.
“The first time I went, I was very excited to be there,” said Cho, who owns a clothing export business in Vernon.
“It would be nice to go back, but Nationalore is going to have to be in the top three [today]. Artax and Real Quiet are both very good horses, and I don’t know if Indian Charlie wants to run that far [1 1/8 miles].”
A college graduate in South Korea--his family left North Korea when he was 3--Cho played guitar and sang in a rock band there before coming to America.
Still unsure of his ability with English, Cho is hesitant to elaborate, but did say he paid little attention to racing in his native land.
A trip with some friends to Santa Anita in 1986 piqued his interest, and in 1989, he claimed his first horse, Zonar, who is the dam of Bienfeo, a veteran claimer who won recently in Arcadia.
He also went to the Keeneland sale for the first time that year and bought seven yearlings at the July and September sales.
Nationalore, beaten by 13 lengths by Artax in the San Felipe in his last start, is one of 16 horses in Cho’s barn at Hollywood Park. A dozen of them are 2-year-olds likely to debut later in the year.
“Mr. Cho is a great guy,” Jory said. “We’re still good friends. He’s real nice, fun and generous. Whatever you wanted or needed he would do.
“He always wanted to train. He was at the barn every morning, asking questions. There were no problems when he went on his own. We had a lot of fun together.”
Fun hasn’t always translated to success. The stable won only three races last year, but Nationalore could provide some thrills if he could emulate--or improve on--dear old Dad’s performance in the Santa Anita Derby.
And, just for the record, if Nationalore loses again today, but does go on to Churchill Downs the first Saturday of May, he will be trying to become the fourth maiden to win the Kentucky Derby.
The last to do it was Brokers Tip in 1933, and he was preceded by Sir Barton in 1919 and Buchanan in 1884.