With Phone Trick, all rider Laffit Pincay has to do is dial the finish line and the 3-year-old colt gets there faster than a call on a hot line.
On Sunday, in his sixth career start, Phone Trick won for the sixth time, taking the $86,100 Palos Verdes Handicap by 4 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:08, which missed Santa Anita's track record for six furlongs by only two-fifths of a second.
The record of 1:07 3/5 was set in the 1982 Palos Verdes by Chinook Pass, the Washington-bred gelding who didn't win the sprint title that year, but won it in 1983.
Chinook Pass wasn't undefeated in either year, and despite going six for six in 1985, Phone Trick isn't likely to win this year's sprint championship. The favorites in the national balloting that will be announced on Jan. 8 are Precisionist, because he won the Breeders' Cup Sprint Stakes, and Mt. Livermore, third in the Breeders' Cup race won Precisionist but the winner of four stakes at seven furlongs or less earlier in the year.
"Maybe some of the voters (turf writers, racing secretaries and Daily Racing Form representatives) can call in and change their votes after they see what this horse did again," trainer Dick Mandella said after Phone Trick's latest win. The problem for Phone Trick and Mandella is that after the colt started the year with three straight wins, he came out of a race at Hollywood Park with a sore knee and didn't race for seven months, until he won by 7 1/2 lengths at Hollywood two weeks ago.
Phone Trick's win in the Palos Verdes was his second in a stake, coming against five older horses before 43,607 fans. While only two others in the field--Debonaire Junior and Charging Falls--had any license whatsoever to upset him, it was Five North, longest price on the board at 32-1 and taken by trainer Bill Chasteen for $10,000 out of a Del Mar claiming race in August, who finished second.
Debonaire Junior was tardy out of the gate and finished third, 3 1/2 lengths behind Five North. My Favorite Moment, Coyotero and Charging Falls rounded out the order of finish.
Phone Trick, earning $50,100, paid $3.60, $3.20 and $2.20. Five North paid $13.60 and $3.60 and was responsible for the high $5 exacta payoff of $157.50 with the 4-5 favorite. Debonaire Junior paid $2.40 to show.
If there was anything different about Phone Trick's modus operandi, it was that he was third for a while going down the backstretch, just on the outside of Coyotero and Five North.
"He was kind of like that the last time at Hollywood Park," Mandella said. "He was just a nose off the lead for a while. I like to see him do that, running his races a little more professionally than just showing raw speed. It's hard to say whether he might have broken the record if he'd been pushed more. He just won off by himself."
Coyotero dropped out of contention on the turn, with Phone Trick and Pincay passing Five North with no difficulty. The win, coming on Pincay's 39th birthday, lifted this year's leading purse rider out of a brief slump. Pincay had won with only 1 of 21 mounts at Santa Anita prior to the Palos Verdes.
Pincay also rode Chinook Pass in his record Palos Verdes win. "This tastes better than the cake," said Pincay, who has a one-year record of more than $13 million in purses. "Phone Trick ran a tremendous race. He's a top-quality colt who was running at the end and not giving up."
It was Pincay who told Mandella that Phone Trick might be hurting after he won the Debonair Stakes at Hollywood last May 12.
"He had a little problem, and he was trying to get out early in the year," Pincay said. "He runs straight since he's come back. I haven't been doing good lately, but maybe this will change my luck around."
Mandella selected Phone Trick from a 2-year-old sale in 1984 at Hollywood Park and paid $85,000 for the Kentucky-bred, who is named after his parents (Clever Trick and Over the Phone).
"I loved his conformation when I saw him," Mandella said. "He looked like the perfect horse."
Mandella now owns 20% of Phone Trick, the rest being shared equally by Howell Wynne, a Dallas investor, and Larry DeAngelis, a Chicago futures trader.
It was Dr. Buck Wynne, Howell's late father, who was Mandella's first client when he established a public stable in 1976. Mandella trained Bad 'N Big for the elder Wynne, winning the Cinema Handicap at Hollywood in '77 and the Golden Gate Handicap and the Longacres Mile in '78.
"Dr. Wynn, was the greatest man I've ever known in racing," Mandella said Sunday.
Now Mandella is working for another Wynne with another stakes winner. Hold the phone to see what happens next.
Horse Racing Notes Next probable start for Phone Trick is the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap on Jan. 7. . . . Precisionist, preparing for the San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 25, worked five furlongs Saturday in :59. . . . Trainer Ted West notched three winners Sunday--Naturally Natalie in the second, Lucky N Green in the fifth and Ward C. in the ninth. Mary Ellen West, the trainer's wife, owns Lucky N Green. . . . Dick Mandella won the race before the Palos Verdes with Madam Ask Us. . . . Ward C.'s win completed a Pick Six that paid $6,003 to 210 ticket holders. With a $665,000 carryover, the pool totaled more than $2 million. . . . Santa Anita is dark today, with racing resuming Tuesday with the San Miguel Stakes. Louisiana Slew will carry top weight of 120 pounds against five other 2-year-olds, who all automatically turn three at midnight. . . . The stake on New Year's day, Wednesday, is the Las Flores, and it's headed by Her Royalty, Baroness Direct and Take My Picture.