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A Victory by Borrego Would Be Classic

Times Staff Writer

A dollar here, a dollar there, they add up.

So Borrego, with the won-lost record of a ne’er-do-well, has the bankroll of a plutocrat. His owners hardly ever go home with a trophy, but usually with a check.

If the 4-year-old colt runs true to form Sunday in the $1-million Pacific Classic, he will hit the board but won’t get to the finish line first.

Borrego, with three wins, six seconds and two thirds, has earned $852,090.

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Those closest to him -- Beau Greely, his trainer; Garrett Gomez, his jockey, and Gary Jones, racing manager for Jon and Sarah Kelly of Rancho Santa Fe, who race Borrego in a partnership -- insist, however, that they’re not running for just a minor piece of the purse.

“Except for Lava Man [the 9-5 favorite], I think Borrego’s the best horse in the race,” said Jones, the retired trainer who won the inaugural running of Del Mar’s signature race with Best Pal in 1991.

“I think we should be in the hunt,” said Sarah Kelly, who races Borrego in a partnership that includes her husband.

Borrego and Surf Cat, with three wins apiece, are the least successful horses in the 12-horse field. The difference is, Borrego needed to run 17 times to get those wins, whereas Surf Cat, only a 3-year-old, has run but six times and has already won a stake, which is one more than Borrego. Surf Cat is the 3-1 second choice and Borrego is a 12-1 longshot.

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“I’m proud of the way this horse has run, because he’s been very consistent,” said Greely, who has never had a Pacific Classic starter. “But because he’s yet to win a stake, I don’t know whether I’ve done a good or a bad training job with him.”

At his barn here Thursday, Borrego was not a horse to get chummy with. Greely showed his right arm, where his horse had left a small mark with a quick nip. Sarah Kelly said that she has also been bitten by Borrego.

Greely and Kelly, subscribing to the maxim that good things come in threes, were looking for somebody else to visit Borrego’s nearby stall. There were no volunteers.

Kelly and Greely, who also owns a piece of Borrego, tried to sell him twice at auction, but when bidding lagged they bought him back, first for $20,000, then for $70,000. This was before the El Prado-Sweet As Honey colt had run a race.

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“He was not a good-looking horse,” Kelly said.

Said Greely, “He looked like a giraffe.”

Borrego has danced some of racing’s biggest dances. He ran two of his worst races in the Triple Crown last year, when he was 10th in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Preakness. Greely, though, had a right to think his horse belonged at Churchill Downs. Three weeks before, Borrego had finished second to Smarty Jones in the Arkansas Derby.

“We actually ran in the Arkansas Derby thinking we had found an easier spot,” Greely said. “Then it rained and rained at the [Kentucky] Derby. The track was going to be awful, but we thought the mud would help us, because he had run on an off-track in Arkansas. It didn’t work out that way. But he was still doing well, so we decided to take a shot in the Preakness.”

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Smarty Jones, only 1 1/2 lengths better in Arkansas, buried Borrego in both Triple Crown races. But Borrego finished second in the Super Derby and this year he has been third in the Santa Anita Handicap, third -- beaten only by a neck -- in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, fourth in the Californian and second, 8 3/4 lengths back, to Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9.

The last three races were run at Hollywood Park.

“We didn’t have a chance there, the way the track was favoring speed much of the meet,” Jones said. “The track was like a merry-go-round.”

Greely said that he complained to Hollywood management about the speed bias, but nothing changed.

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“I’ve got a lot of respect for Lava Man,” Greely said. “He’s beaten us twice. But I think we’ve got a better chance against him at Del Mar.”

Another Classic starter, Perfect Drift, also struggles to win but racks up purse money through sheer persistence. A 6-year-old gelding, Perfect Drift earned almost $1 million in 2004, even though he didn’t win a race.

In this year and last, he has earned $1.2 million -- with only two wins in 13 starts. Second to Pleasantly Perfect in last year’s Classic, Perfect Drift is the 4-1 third choice. His overall purses come to $3.4 million, more than any other horse running.

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Rock Hard Ten, winner of this year’s Strub and Santa Anita Handicap, worked five furlongs Tuesday in 1:00 2/5 . Rock Hard Ten, who has been sidelined with body soreness, is being readied for the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 1, and then perhaps the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29.

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Trianer Cole Norman, whose Top Commander exceeded mandated sodium-bicarbonate limits when tested after running fifth in the Bing Crosby Handicap on July 31, will be prohibited from running horses in California for a year. The Louisiana-based Norman is third nationally this year with 182 wins.


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