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Drysdale Pulls the Reins on Fiji

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trainer Neil Drysdale will be running two horses in a stakes race at Hollywood Park today, but neither of them will be the near-perfect Fiji in the $300,000 Beverly Hills Handicap.

While Drysdale sends out Mufattish and Via Lombardi in the $150,000 American Handicap, Fiji will stay in the barn rather than run in the Beverly Hills. Drysdale is unhappy with the weight spread for the major grass race for female horses, and in what might be a long-running mind game between the trainer and racing departments as distant as Del Mar, Fiji could also pass on another $300,000 race, the Ramona Handicap on Aug. 1, if weights at the seaside track don’t suit.

“If we don’t think the weights are fair, we’ll just wait for the weight-for-age races later on,” Drysdale said. “It’s not the weights themselves that matter, it’s the difference between what my horse and the other horses are carrying.”

Fiji, the British-bred filly who has won seven of eight starts overall after a sweep of five races this year, is the top-ranked female in the country according to the Daily Racing Form listing. She drew a 125-pound assignment, two pounds more than what she carried to victory in the Gamely Handicap last month, but what bothered Drysdale the most was that his horse would have been giving 10 pounds to Sixty Saint, who accounted for Fiji’s only defeat.

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“When Sixty Saint beat us, she gave us a pound,” Drysdale said. “What we would have had in this race was my filly giving the other one 10 pounds. That amounts to an 11-pound shift in just a few months.”

In Fiji’s first start in the United States, in an allowance race at Santa Anita on Dec. 27, she nose-dived out of the gate, made the lead, but then lost by a nose. Sixty Saint ran one more time, winning again at Santa Anita, before a touchy case of pneumonia knocked her out of action. Meantime, Fiji began piling up wins, by gaping margins in significant stakes.

In her first outing in three months, Sixty Saint won a mile allowance May 31 at Hollywood Park. That was her fourth consecutive win; she has won five of 10 overall, but is better on grass with four wins and a third in five tries.

In another year, Drysdale might have run Fiji despite the weights, but this season his barn is riding such a crest that he can afford to be picky. The barn is a collection of steady runners that have earned more than $3.6 million, which ranks Drysdale fifth nationally. In 1996-97 combined, Drysdale’s horses earned $3.8 million.

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Drysdale’s horses were earning more than $5 million annually as long ago as 1989, and his five Breeders’ Cup wins still rank him third on that list.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as a bad year,” Drysdale said. “I prefer to look at it as a series of ups and downs that are always a part of the game. It’s the horses that count, isn’t it? Good horses make a trainer look good. There’s no way around it.”

Winner of the American Handicap two of the last three years, and three times since 1992, Drysdale will start Mufattish, the high weight at 119 pounds, and Via Lombardi, who’ll carry two less. Mufattish, a 5-year-old gelding, has won seven of 13 grass starts, including an allowance win at the American distance of 1 1/8 miles on May 21.

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Sixty Saint, Free House and A.P. Assay could make for an enjoyable second half of the season for owners Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan and trainer Paco Gonzalez. A.P. Assay was a 10-1 winner of the $250,000 A Gleam Handicap last Sunday and Free House, knocked out by the Triple Crown grind, will make his first start as a 4-year-old in the $100,000 Bel Air Handicap a week from today. A good showing in the Bel Air could send the colt into the $1-million Pacific Classic on Aug. 15 at Del Mar.

Trainer Bob Baffert said that Silver Charm will use Del Mar’s $150,000 San Diego Handicap, on July 25, as his prep for the Pacific Classic. Silver Charm, unable to run in last Sunday’s Hollywood Gold Cup because of a fever that cost him training time, returned to the track at Santa Anita on Monday.

Puerto Madero and Gentlemen, who ran second and third behind Skip Away in the Gold Cup, are also probables for the Pacific Classic. Sonny Hine, who trains Skip Away, must decide whether he wants to bring his horse back to California for the Del Mar race. After the Gold Cup, Hine seemed to be leaning toward staying back East, then finishing the year with the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs.

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Baffert’s Real Quiet, foiled in his Triple Crown bid when Victory Gallop nosed him out in the Belmont Stakes, worked five furlongs in :58 4/5 at Santa Anita on Wednesday and may run in the $500,000 Swaps on July 19 at Hollywood.

That would put Real Quiet’s rematch with Victory Gallop on hold, perhaps until the Travers on Aug. 29 at Saratoga. Victory Gallop, back in training at Churchill Downs, is headed for the $1-million Haskell Invitational Handicap on Aug 9 at Monmouth Park.

Gary Stevens, who worked Real Quiet on Wednesday, will replace Kent Desormeaux on the colt if he runs in the Swaps. Stevens rode Victory Gallop to his second-place finish in the Preakness and the win in the Belmont.


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