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An Owner With the Answers

Times Staff Writer

When Reba’s Gold tries, for a second time, to win the Californian on Saturday at Hollywood Park, his owner will be in attendance.

This news may have some of the others involved with the 6-year-old son of Slew o’ Gold cringing.

Reba’s Gold has done some of his best work when the owner isn’t around, and it has been suggested that Alex Trebek, the longtime host of the popular game show “Jeopardy!”, might be a jinx.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the horse should be afraid to leave his stall on Saturday. Trebek, in fact, has been present for some of Reba’s eight victories.

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For what it’s worth, Trebek was not at Bay Meadows on May 26 when Reba’s Gold, a $130,000 purchase at a Barretts sale more than four years ago, ran his first race of 2003.

Although the competition was not particularly stiff in the Seabiscuit Handicap, the bay horse, trained by Dan Hendricks, turned in one of the most impressive performances of his 30-race career.

Ridden by Chance Rollins, Reba’s Gold was reserved off the pace early, then made a big move while three-wide to open a clear lead and coasted from there. At the finish, he had eight lengths on runner-up Free Corona. In boosting his earnings to $566,922, he completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.63.

The victory earned him another shot at the $400,000 Californian, the final major prep for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 13.

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A year ago, Reba’s Gold finished sixth in the Grade II, 10 1/4 lengths behind winner Milwaukee Brew.

No matter what happens Saturday or in the future, Reba’s Gold has already brought Trebek a lot of enjoyment, finishing in the top three in almost two-thirds of his races.

The Canadian-born Trebek did not grow up a fan of the sport. Nor does he have a long history in racing.

Rather, his involvement began less than a decade ago, thanks to his admiration for a certain piece of land in Paso Robles in central California.

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“I fell in love with the property,” he said, recalling numerous times he had driven by the old Cardiff Stud Farms. “It was a beautiful layout.”

When he became aware that the picturesque spread, which was then owned by the family of trainer Jenine Sahadi, was available, Trebek bought what is now called Creston Farms in 1996.

Although he had no previous involvement in any facet of racing, Trebek decided to keep the place going as a horse farm. The large facility provides care for broodmares and their foals, weanlings and yearlings, breaking and training of young horses, racing rehabilitation and preparation for sales.

“At the beginning, we had 700 acres and not one horse,” he said. “Now there are about 300 horses [among them stallions Worldly Manner, Siberian Summer, Thisnearlywasmine, Anziyan, Iron Cat, Falstaff, Fruition and Cromwell] and 40 of them are mine.

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“I didn’t have any interest in horses or racing, but after I got into the operation, I looked around my house and I realized I had so many statues and paintings or drawings of horses, so there was something subconsciously that attracted me to them.

“I enjoy visiting the farm. The horses are such beautiful animals and when I get up there, everything just slows down and is much calmer. It’s relaxing. In a way, it’s like getting back to nature. I enjoy visiting the farm more than I enjoy going to the races.”

Trebek said he would probably stay involved as an owner to some extent even after Reba’s Gold is done racing. He has two unraced thoroughbreds -- a 2-year-old son of Silver Charm and a filly by Thunder Gulch.

“I don’t know exactly what we’ll do after Reba,” he said. “We’re not in the big leagues with people who race horses. We might have one or two at a time.

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“I rely on expert advice. [Bloodstock agent Rollin Baugh and Creston farm manager Art Mercado] keep their eyes open. I need the help of experts because to me, all horses look beautiful.”

In the Californian, one of three graded stakes on Saturday’s card, along with the $200,000 Hollywood Breeders’ Cup Oaks and the $350,000 Charlie Whittingham Memorial Handicap, Trebek hopes Reba’s Gold looks good after 1 1/8 miles.

A winner of his most recent start at Hollywood Park in the Steinlen Handicap last fall, Reba’s Gold will be a factor under jockey David Flores if he runs as he did in Northern California less than three weeks ago.

Perhaps, if the horse should come up big against likely favorite Western Pride and six others, the question might be “Who is Reba’s Gold?” if somebody is asked to name the winner of the 2003 Californian.

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