After David Lanzman picked out and bought Squirtle Squirt at a Pomona auction in 2000, he was happy and chagrined. Lanzman was happy that he had to pay only $25,000 for the unraced colt--$5,000 less than what the horse brought the first time he went through a sales ring--but embarrassed later that he didn't know about the horse's bum knee.
"He had a chip in his right knee," Lanzman said. "I think I was the only one at the sale that didn't know. I thought the horse would have cost a lot more. I got him for about one-sixth of what his price should have been."
Squirtle Squirt is over his knee problems--he underwent surgery in November 2000--and he has earned $1 million, a good chunk of it in October when he upset Kona Gold to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park. That win is expected to earn Squirtle Squirt the Eclipse Award for best sprinter when the championships are announced Feb. 18.
By then, Squirtle Squirt's 4-year-old campaign will already have begun. His trainer, Bobby Frankel, has entered him against seven rivals Sunday in the $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap, which at six furlongs is the same distance as the Breeders' Cup race.
Lanzman, owner of a Los Angeles mortgage company, moved Squirtle Squirt from trainer Joe Garcia to Frankel after the surgery. Garcia had done good work with Squirtle Squirt, winning five races, including the Hollywood Juvenile, but there were two things about Frankel that appealed to Lanzman: He had trained Marquetry, Squirtle Squirt's sire, and Lanzman sensed that Frankel was desperate to win a Breeders' Cup race.
By the time the Sprint was run at Belmont, Frankel was beyond desperate, he was frothing at the mouth. A member of the Racing Hall of Fame, Frankel had still failed to win with 36 Breeders' Cup starters at the beginning of the day, and two of his best chances--Flute and You--were beaten early on the card. Squirtle Squirt, Frankel had said earlier in the week, had the fourth-best chance among the horses he was running in six of the eight Breeders' Cup races.
Marquetry was a major stakes winner for Frankel. He won the Hollywood Gold Cup at 11/4 miles in 1991. Arguably, Marquetry is the most successful sire in Breeders' Cup history. Among the 1,461 horses that have run in the Breeders' Cup since the program started in 1984, only two have been sired by Marquetry and both won. Before Squirtle Squirt, there was Artax, a winner of the Sprint in 1999.
This is the 50th edition of the Palos Verdes, a race frequently won by older horses, including Kona Gold as a 6-year-old in 2000 and Men's Exclusive when he was an 8-year-old last year. At 9, the Wesley Ward-trained Men's Exclusive is back, and in his 36th start he'll try to become the first to win the stake in successive years since Native Diver in 1964-65.
Squirtle Squirt will carry 122 pounds, five more than Men's Exclusive and Ceeband, who are next in the weights. Beaumes De Venise drew the rail, and outside him in the gate will be Snow Ridge, Echo Eddie, Squirtle Squirt, Explicit, Ceeband, Men's Exclusive and Silky Sweep.
Another Breeders' Cup winner, Spain, will try to hit the elusive win column again in today's Santa Monica Handicap. Spain won the Breeders' Cup Distaff in 2000 but has won only two of 11 starts since.
Robert Strauss, a board member of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Cup since 1988, was elected chairman Friday. Strauss was chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the 1970s, worked in the cabinet of President Jimmy Carter and was the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union--later Russia--in the early 1990s. He succeeds John Mabee, who stepped down late last year. Mabee's wife of 60 years, Betty Mabee, was elected to the board, becoming only the second woman in track history to serve in that capacity.