In the Santa Anita Turf Club, Earl Scheib kept peeling off $100 bills, trying to buy the guys in the press box some drinks.
It was a day of days for a race track, because nobody would take Scheib's money. Scheib couldn't figure why his C-notes weren't any good. Finally it was explained to him that drinks are free in the press box, anyway.
Earl Scheib, 77, was on a high. His Fran's Valentine, a 3-year-old filly who's gone through life as her own worst enemy, had just won the $212,600 Santa Susana Stakes in flawless fashion, finishing 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Rascal Lass before 66,883 fans.
It was a trouble-free win for Fran's Valentine for a change, giving Scheib reason to paint the town--or at least a few automobiles. Even though Fran's Valentine was disqualified to 10th place after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Hollywood Park last November, a ruling that cost Scheib $450,000, the assembly-line automobile painter still likes to talk about his filly's day of infamy.
"I must have gotten about a hundred calls from as far away as New York and Florida after that race," Scheib said. "One guy asked me how come I was smiling on television in the commercial that came right after the race. He didn't realize that the commercial was taped."
Scheib might not have been smiling after the Breeders' Cup, but he did no grousing, either. "You wanna be able to take the tough with the good in this game," he said Sunday. "Besides, I still got a filly who might win the Breeders' Cup for me this year."
This year's million-dollar Breeders' Cup races are at Aqueduct in November, but Fran's Valentine is scheduled to hit the road before then. Joe Manzi, her trainer, said that plans call for Fran's Valentine to run next in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3, which is the day before the Kentucky Derby.
"I've never been to the Oaks," Manzi said. "This is the first time I've ever had a good enough filly to even be thinking about it."
Before the race, Scheib talked about the instructions Manzi would be giving jockey Pat Valenzuela. "He'll be told to keep this filly off the rail," Scheib said. "Even if it costs us four or five lengths, keep her off the rail."
Still, as the horses settled for their run down the backstretch in the 1 1/16-mile race, Manzi was worried. "She was on the inside, where I didn't want her to be," the trainer said. "It looked like she wasn't going to get out. But Pat was able to move any time with her, and she was clear leaving the half-mile pole."
Trunk and Rascal Lass did most of the running early in the race, but by the time the field neared the quarter pole, Fran's Valentine had taken the lead. Earning $122,100 for Scheib and increasing her lifetime purses to more than $400,000, favored Fran's Valentine was timed in 1:42 2/5, just over a second slower than the stakes record, and paid $4.40, $3.20 and $2.40.
Rascal Lass' prices were $4.80 and $3 and Wising Up, who finished three lengths behind Rascal Lass, paid $2.40.
Like Scheib, Valenzuela would just as soon dwell on this November rather than last. "I've said all along that this was one nice filly, and I just want to forget about all the things that happened with her in the past," the jockey said. "I'd just like to think about the future, like the next Breeders' Cup."
Scheib's 45-acre Green Thumb Farm--"Fifty minutes from my office in Beverly Hills," he said--produced Fran's Valentine and there's a full sister to the filly that also has the owner's juices rippling.
"Her name is Earl's Valentine, a 2-year-old," Scheib said. "She'll run at Hollywood Park. She might be better than this one. I know that's saying a lot, but we've got our hopes."
Green Thumb and Fran's Valentine are named after Scheib's wife Fran, who died last year. "She raised orchids, some of the most beautiful orchids in the country," Scheib said. "She had a green thumb, so that became the name for the farm."
Scheib's shops have been painting cars since 1937 and he's been running horses since the 1950s. Fran's Valentine is the best he's had since Bicker, who won both the Malibu and San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita in '73.
Scheib's horses don't race out of town that much, but he remembers winning a division of the Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans with La Doree in '78. A few days later, La Doree took sick and died.
"They buried her in the infield, which was awful nice of the track to do," Scheib said.
That left La Doree in good company. Black Gold is also buried at the Fair Grounds. He won the Kentucky Derby in 1924.
Horse Racing Notes