In the paddock, the international flavor of Sunday's $400,000 Oak Tree Invitational was unmistakable. As the owners, trainers and guests mingled in the ring before the race, the sounds of accents and foreign languages were everywhere.
But it was a different story in the winner's circle after the race.
All seven owners of Yashgan, the winner, are from Southern California, with six living in the Pasadena-San Marino area. The only interloper is Charles Cale of West Los Angeles.
"Cale's the only foreigner in the group," said owner F. Jack Liebau, who resides in San Marino.
Actually, Yashgan has a rather exotic background. The 4-year-old colt was formerly owned by the Aga Khan, who is the hereditary ruler of the Muslim Ismaili sect, with more than 20 million members in India, Africa and the Middle East. The Aga Khan, whose father, the Ali Khan, was once married to actress Rita Hayworth, was also the principal owner of the kidnapped stallion, Shergar. The Aga Khan's family has lived in Europe for several decades and specializes in horse breeding.
Liebau and associate Sherwood Chillingworth first heard of Yashgan in February, but were told the colt was too roguish to make a good race horse. A few months later, however, when Liebau and Chillingworth again heard of the availability of Yashgan, they got a second opinion, speaking with a jockey who had ridden the horse in France. After a second look at the dark-brown colt, the duo was convinced and persuaded their five partners to purchase the horse in July for a reported $350,000.
"Needless to say, we're quite pleased with our investment," Chillingworth said.
Yashgan has been a very lightly raced horse. The Aga Khan retired the colt in July, 1984, and didn't start him again until May, 1985, when he ran--and won--at St. Cloud, France.
In five starts this year, Yashgan has finished in the money only twice, including Sunday's win. On Oct. 6, he was runner-up to Tsunami Slew in the Carleton F. Burke Handicap, after a slow start out of the gate. And it was Yashgan's close pursuit of Tsunami Slew, which gave his owners the confidence to enter him in the Oak Tree.
"He was training so well, we decided to run him," Liebau said. "We thought Yashgan would have a great chance from the way he ran in the Burke. He showed us he could do it in that race."
After Yashgan's impressive victory Sunday, there is little doubt the colt can do it on a turf course. So, now his owners say they would like to see him try it on the dirt. Yashgan's next start, however, will probably be Dec. 8 in the Hollywood Turf Cup at Hollywood Park.
"We thought we'd have to run in the East where he began racing when we brought him to the United States," Chillingworth said. "But we think he's found a home here, close to our home."
So close to home, in fact, that most of the owners need only drive 10 to 15 minutes to visit their equine charge. The group, which also includes Thomas Capehart, Fred Duckett, George Tuerk and Richard Dick, also owns Forzando, who will be entered in the Breeders' Cup one-mile turf race.
The group, which is known as Liebau, Paniolo Ranch and Score Stables, had a bit of a time though trying to find a trainer for Yashgan. Chillingworth said the group decided that they would not go with any of the trainers they had individual associations with, so that ruled out about half the trainers they knew. Moreover, they wanted a trainer who had "foreign horse experience," so after much shopping around, they went with John Sullivan.
Sullivan is Yashgan's third trainer in as many years. When the colt raced under the Aga Khan's colors, he was trained by Alain Dupre. In New York, it was Joe Canty.
"We're very pleased with the work John has done with him," Liebau said. "But to be fair we should also give credit to his other trainers. They've done a fine job also."
Sullivan agrees--sort of. "I think the horse did it all himself since I got him (last month) from New York," he said. "He likes the California climate and has adjusted by himself."