Win, the 5-year-old New York-bred gelding who will be running in the $500,000 Hollywood Turf Cup today at Hollywood Park, is an $8,000 horse who has gone on to earn more than $1.2 million.
That's a story in itself.
More remarkable, though, is that the woman who bought him thought she was getting a filly.
Win's current trainer, Sally Bailie, had a friend who bought him in his breeder's dispersal sale at Saratoga in 1982.
"I don't want to tell you her name, because it would be embarrassing," Bailie said the other day at the stakes barn at Hollywood Park. "Actually, I'm a little tired of telling the story, because it seems like every time I tell it, it never comes out right."
But then Bailie told the story, anyway:
"This friend said she was interested in a filly by Barachois, out of a Buckpasser mare, that was going through the sale, and asked me to go with her.
"We were sitting way in the back of the arena, and my friend had a catalogue and I didn't. She wanted me to do the bidding for her, and after it hung around $6,000, I finally got the horse for $8,000. Then we went down to see what she had bought. When we got there, there was this giraffe-looking thing, and a man said, 'Well, you got yourselves a real nice gelding here.'
"My friend had a fit, because she wanted a filly and had no use for a gelding. Later, I took a look at the horse, to make sure he didn't have six broken legs, and figured that being a New York-bred and all, he might be of some use. So, I bought him from her."
Win's breeding is the same as the filly that Bailie's friend had sought. Bailie also figures that the mistake might have occurred because the filly and Win were on adjoining pages in the catalogue.
After Win got to the track as a 2-year-old, Bailie took in two equal partners--Paul Cornman, a newspaper handicapper who had liked the horse because he had helped him win a $160 exacta at Saratoga, and Fred Ephraim, a clinical psychologist and university professor.
What they have now is a horse who has won 13 of 38 starts, including seven stakes races. You might call this once-cheap gelding a miniature John Henry, who was sold for $25,000 and less en route to a $6.5-million career. Except that there's nothing small about Win. He stands about 17 hands (68 inches) and probably weighs close to 1,300 pounds.
John Henry still hadn't won his two horse-of-the-year titles by the end of his 5-year-old campaign, but he had won 11 stakes, $1.2 million in purses and was a male turf champion. Bailie said that Win "has a good shot" at this year's turf title if he wins today.
Win didn't run in the Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes at Aqueduct Nov. 2 because it would have cost $240,000 to supplement him. "For most of those rich Breeders' Cup owners, that would have been like putting up $240," Bailie said. "But for us it would have been like risking a lot of money."
Win wasn't invited to run in the Budweiser-Arlington Million earlier this year, even though he had lost by only a neck to John Henry in Belmont Park's Turf Classic in late 1984.
This year's invitations came out shortly before Win won the Bernard Baruch Handicap for the second time at Saratoga, and Cornman and Ephraim, more than Bailie, were furious. Cornman said that the Million's selection committee overrated some of the invited California horses, charging that they were picked because of big earnings totals rather than performance.
"Maybe it's just as well we didn't go," Bailie says. "The track came up soft, which this horse doesn't like, and we would have run him anyhow, because we would have been there."
Which is what Win's owners did in his last start, the Washington D.C. International at Laurel Nov. 16. Win was close to the victorious Vanlandingham for a mile on a soft course, then faded to fifth. They're rivals again today over the same 1 1/2-mile distance.
"It didn't rain in the morning, but it started around noon at Laurel," Bailie said. "We thought about scratching him if the course had appeared unsafe. But it was all right, and while he didn't run well, at least he didn't get tired. I don't think the race took anything out of him."
This is the first California trip for Bailie and Win. Bailie, 48, is a former leading steeplechase rider in her native England. She came to the United States 20 years ago, just to look, but stayed and began training on her own in 1970.
Win's only other airplane trip before Thursday was his flight to Tokyo for a fifth-place finish in the 1984 Japan Cup.
"This was a short trip compared to the other one, and we didn't have to tranquilize him," Bailie said. "I'm glad, because I hate to have to do that to a horse. Although he's a gelding, he can still get excited if something bothers him. But he'll just blow a fuse for about five minutes and then he'll be all right."
Should Win blow by 12 rivals today, he's likely to have earned himself a championship. That is just the way John Henry started, first by being unwanted and then by winning small titles.