Proud Truth went into the San Fernando Stakes getting little respect. Unraced in 10 weeks, carrying 126 pounds and giving a lot of weight to his rivals, drawing a terrible outside post position in a 10-horse field and shipping all the way from Florida to run--the negatives on Proud Truth were as visible as the head of his trainer, John Veitch, who is hairless.
Despite winning the $3-million Breeders' Cup and three other important races last year, Proud Truth was listed as the second choice behind Will Dancer by the Santa Anita linemaker, Jeff Tufts, and the public--43,198 strong--bet the horses that way Sunday in the $182,800 stake.
But at least people were talking about Proud Truth. Right Con, another starter in the San Fernando, wasn't even worthy of conversation.
And Right Con deserved to be ignored. He hadn't won a race in more than 14 months, a stretch of failure that encompassed 11 races. The last time the 4-year-old California-bred even threatened to win a race was when he finished second to Tank's Prospect in the Camino Real Derby last February.
But the way the Santa Anita track has been playing, any horse that gets the lead is a horse to be reckoned with. That's what happened Sunday. Besides getting the lead, Right Con was allowed to poke along, which left him with more than enough through the stretch as he registered a stunning 1-length victory over Nostalgia's Star, who went off at 53-1.
The supposed strength in the San Fernando ran weak races. Proud Truth, making seers out of his skeptics, was never in contention and finished fifth as the second choice. Will Dancer, sent off as the 7-5 favorite, ran seventh, subjecting his jockey, Bill Shoemaker, to a particularly hostile crowd as he dismounted.
Even Fast Account, supposedly the stronger half of the entry owned by William R. Hawn, could do no better than run third.
Coupled with Fast Account in the betting, Right Con paid a lowly $11.20, $5.80 and $6.00. Otherwise, Right Con would have gone off at something like 53-1, which was his price three weeks ago when he finished fourth in the Malibu Stakes.
"I thought both horses had a chance," said Hawn, a semi-retired Dallas real-estate developer who also bred Right Con. "But I was a little surprised that Right Con won. Fast Account wasn't as fit as Right Con (having run only one race after a six-month layoff)."
Mel Stute, who also has another Cal-bred, the top 3-year-old Snow Chief, in his barn, trains Right Con, and Patty Johnson trains Fast Account. In the winner's circle, within earshot of Hawn, Stute jokingly said: "Mr. Hawn killed the price on Right Con (by running Fast Account)."
Hearing that, Hawn said: "At least I put up the entry fee."
Right Con's early fractions for the 1 1/8-mile race were :47 2/5 for a half-mile and 1:11 2/5 for three-quarters. Rafael Meza, who hadn't ridden the colt since Right Con was a 2-year-old, was counting his money when the horses went by the stands for the first time.
"I thought we had it won after the first half-mile," Meza said. "I felt good going into that first turn, because the horse was going very smoothly."
Nostalgia's Star, paying $27.60 and $17.20, had also run second when Right Con won his last race, which was the El Camino Real Stakes on grass at Bay Meadows in November 1984. Both Fernando Toro, riding Nostalgia's Star Sunday, and Chris McCarron, who was aboard Fast Account, felt the slow pace was a deterrent.
"The winner went to the lead, slowed it down and then accelerated when he had to," McCarron said. "I had a perfect trip. If anybody was better than the winner, they would have caught him."
Right Con, timed in 1:48 2/5, more than two seconds slower than the track record, was tremendously busy as a 2-year-old, running 14 times and winning the San Mateo Stakes, besides the El Camino Real. Early in his 3-year-old year, he was sent to Hawn's farm near Hemet for a rest, then developed a fever while he was there. Through June of last year, Right Con ran seven races as a 3-year-old, extending his losing streak, and was given another rest. A race on Dec. 15 was Right Con's first start in almost sixth months, and the San Fernando was only his third race since his return.
Will Dancer, an Italian-raced colt who was an impressive winner in his first start on dirt on Jan. 2, couldn't handle sod hitting him in the face on Sunday.
"He hadn't gotten any dirt in his face the last time," Shoemaker said. "He got bounced around leaving the gate and at the three-eighths pole he spit out the bit and I thought we were going to finish last.
"But then he got to running again. All things considered, I don't think he ran that bad of a race. I don't think we can condemn him off this one race."
Before the race, Veitch bemoaned the weight Proud Truth was carrying and the post position he drew. Afterward, the colt's jockey, Jorge Velasquez, said:
"It wasn't his day. I got stuck out there, couldn't save ground and we needed better pace up front. I had no chance to get position. We were completely eliminated at the 3 1/2-furlong pole, when he got loose and started coming on, but then we got shut off. I hope we'll get better racing luck next time."
Horse Racing Notes Right Con's win was worth $101,800 and increased his career earnings to more than $500,000. . . . Mel Stute used to train Nostalgia's Star when the colt was owned by John Mabee. . . . Eddie Delahoussaye rode three straight winners Sunday. . . . Rudy Campas, whose mount, Five North, was disqualified after winning a race Saturday, was given a five-day suspension by the stewards.