Trainer Mike Mitchell kept telling the six owners of On The Acorn that the 7-year-old gelding was doing super. "Better than last year," Mitchell said.
"We weren't buying it," said Jack Disney, who heads the six-person syndicate that owns On The Acorn. "But we are now."
The owners had good reason for their doubts. A year ago the horse won the San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita and the Jim Murray at Hollywood Park consecutively, but then came a third-place finish, a badly beaten sixth and then a disappointing fourth over a light schedule.
However, On the Acorn became the first two-time winner of the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Hollywood Park in the 19th running of the 1 1/2 -mile turf race.
And this one was a thriller.
On The Acorn, sent off at 9-1 in a field of four, trailed until making a move leaving the backstretch and on the final turn. Then he battled 2-5 favorite Champs Elysees down the stretch and got up in the final strides to win by a nose and pay $21.60. The winning time was 2:27.36.
"We beat one of the best handicap horses in the country," said Ross Newhan, one of the six owners.
Too bad Murray isn't around to write this story. Disney and Newhan are former sportswriters, and were close to Murray, the legendary Times columnist who died in 1998.
"We sat next to each other in so many World Series press boxes, I can't count them," said Newhan, who also worked for The Times and was inducted into the writers' wing of the baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
So how did winning the Murray for a second time compare to going into the Hall?
"That was a very special event, but I didn't jump up and down like I did today," Newhan said.
Disney, known to friends as "Diz," wrote for the Herald Examiner and is now a horse racing publicist. He and Newhan covered the Angels together. Another owner is former Angels manager Buck Rodgers.
Also in the group that calls itself Indizguys Stable is Paul Salata of USC football fame and the founder of Irrelevant Week, which honors the player picked last in the NFL draft.
The other owners are Disney's twin brother, Doug, and Fred Krueger.
The group, on the advice of Mitchell, claimed On The Acorn for $40,000 after he finished fifth in a claiming race at Hollywood Park in November 2006.
He finished ninth the next time out. Then came two firsts, a third and then that San Juan Capistrano-Murray back-to-back victory run last year.
With Saturday's prize of $150,000, the horse has now earned $743,812 overall and $581,400 since being claimed by Indizguys.
Brice Blanc, who rode On The Acorn to his first two victories, was back on the gelding Saturday. He replaced Victor Espinoza, whom Mitchell thought had the horse laying up too close to the front in this year's San Juan Capistrano.
In Saturday's sixth race, Miss Cozy Cat broke down in the stretch and Scout About crashed into the filly. Jockeys Mike Smith and Alex Solis escaped injury, but Miss Cozy Cat had to be euthanized.
Big Brown's Triple Crown bid may not be as easy as first thought. That's because a Belmont rival will probably be Casino Drive, who scored a 5 3/4 -length victory in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. He was ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown's jockey, who said, "We've got our hands full with this one." . . . Recapturetheglory, fifth in the Kentucky Derby, has been declared out of the Preakness because of a fever.