Precisionist will start paying the price today for the Eclipse Award he won in 1985. The denomination is pounds instead of dollars.
Owner Fred Hooper's 5-year-old chestnut has been assigned 126 pounds for the $100,000 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita. Precisionist has carried that impost with ease before, but for his 1986 debut he's spotting the opposition up to 14 pounds.
Strawberry Road II, one of seven horses entered in the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual, will carry 122 pounds if he runs, but trainer Charlie Whittingham said Friday that the Australian-bred would start only if Precisionist is scratched.
Strawberry Road II is also entered in Sunday's $100,000 San Marcos Handicap, which is on the grass, the surface the widely traveled 7-year-old has been on in all 39 of his starts.
Ross Fenstermaker, who trains Precisionist, is steaming about the weight difference in the San Pasqual. Fenstermaker is also unhappy with Santa Anita racing secretary Tom Robbins' weight assignment of 122 pounds for Greinton, who wasn't even entered.
"Greinton beat us the last two times we met, and he ran one of the fastest miles ever (1:32 3/5) in winning the Californian at Hollywood Park," Fenstermaker said. "Yet, we would have had to give him four pounds if he ran Saturday. It's ridiculous. I'd like to know where the bodies are buried to get a break on the weights."
In the race before the Californian, the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap last May, Precisionist beat Greinton with a time of 1:32 4/5, which also just missed Dr. Fager's world-record 1:32 1/5 that was set in 1968 at Arlington Park.
After Precisionist had finished second to Greinton for the second straight time--and the third time in the year--in the Hollywood Gold Cup in late June, Fenstermaker's horse nursed four sore feet until he ran in the Breeders' Cup Sprint Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 2.
Precisionist's win that day, in a near-record time of 1:08 2/5 for six furlongs, earned him the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter, and his sweep of the Strub series earlier in the year also helped him finish second to Vanlandingham in the male handicap division.
Fenstermaker is still hoping for the 1985 Horse of the Year title, although Spend a Buck, the champion 3-year-old colt, is favored. Fenstermaker figures that either Precisionist or Vanlandingham might edge out Spend a Buck when the vote is announced Feb. 6.
Spend a Buck's record one-year earnings of $3.5 million more than tripled Precisionist's, but $2 million of Spend a Buck's total was the result of a bonus for winning the Kentucky Derby and sweeping three races at Garden State Park.
"I think bonuses are full of baloney," Fenstermaker said. "They're very misleading. Spend a Buck (with $4.2 million) is second on the all-time list to John Henry (almost $6.6 million), but where would he be without the bonus? He wouldn't even be close.
"If they're going to give bonuses, they should be recorded separately from the regular purse money."
Precisionist's final race of the year probably hurt him more in the voting than the money disparity with Spend a Buck. Rather than close the books on '85, Hooper chose to run in Hollywood Park's National Sprint Championship in late November, and Precisionist finished fourth on a muddy track.
"We ran that last race because that's what this game is all about," Fenstermaker said. "You should come to run if you're serious about this game.
"But then it poured rain, the track came up as slick and the horse just couldn't handle it."
There's no rain in the forecast for today at Santa Anita. It's the weight rather than the weather that will be the obstacle for Precisionist.
Horse Racing Notes The Precisionist-Greinton rivalry may resume in the San Antonio Handicap Feb. 16. That's the planned route for both horses on the way to the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap March 2. . . . Here's the field, in post-position order, for Sunday's San Marcos: Nasib, Truculent, Fort Nightly, Nadirpour, Fabbiani, Strawberry Road II, Rivlia and Silveyville, who is expected to return to stud after the race. . . . Strawberry Road has top weight of 125 pounds, followed by Silveyville with 120. . . . Yashgan was nominated for the San Marcos and would have been favored, but his sale to Irish breeding interests is imminent. . . . Mitterand, who won three stakes last year, among them the La Canada, has been retired and probably will be bred to Mr. Prospector.