Trainer Ross Fenstermaker came out of his barn office at Hollywood Park with two carrots as big as billy clubs.
Fenstermaker broke off a small piece from the end of one carrot and threw it at the feet of a horse standing in a stall to his right. The rest was for Precisionist, whose stall was on the opposite side of the shed row.
Fred Hooper, the 89-year-old Florida man who bred and owns the 5-year-old red horse, started feeding him the carrots, telling Precisionist: "Chew it up good."
Precisionist didn't need any instructions. Hooper has been spoiling him with carrots ever since the horse came to the race track.
In return, Precisionist has spoiled Hooper, a man who is used to champions, by earning $2.2 million and last year being voted the best sprinter in the country.
There's a carrot dangling for Hooper at Hollywood Park on Sunday. It's the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, which has drawn favored Precisionist and five rivals.
Hooper has won many big races, starting with Hoop Jr., the first horse he ever owned and the winner of the 1945 Kentucky Derby, but he has never won the Gold Cup.
Last year, Precisionist ran second in the Gold Cup to Greinton, who was clocked in 1:58 2/5. Only Spectacular Bid, winning the 1980 Strub at Santa Anita, and Quack, in the 1972 Gold Cup, have run faster at 1 miles on dirt.
Precisionist carried 125 pounds last year, five more than Greinton. For the Gold Cup, Hollywood Park's director of racing, Tommy Trotter, has assigned Precisionist 127, which means he will spot the opposition anywhere from 9 to 13 pounds.
The field, in post position order, starts with Precisionist, with Chris McCarron riding, and also includes Super Diamond, 118 pounds, Laffit Pincay; Hopeful Word, 118, Pat Day; Alphabatim, 120, Bill Shoemaker; Herat, 114, Randy Romero, and Hatim, 118, Eddie Delahoussaye. Because Alphabatim and Hatim are both owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, they will be coupled in the betting.
Precisionist is listed at 3-5 by the track linemaker. After him are Super Diamond at 3-1, Alphabatim and Hatim at 7-2, Hopeful Word at 10-1 and Herat at 12-1.
Hooper has an opinion about weights. "In a major race, the top horse should never carry more than 125 pounds, and the bottom horse shouldn't get in any lighter than 115," he said.
Precisionist has won half of his 30 races, but at 1 miles, he has won only three of seven starts. The last time he ran at 1 miles, in the Santa Anita Handicap March 2, he finished sixth, 3 lengths behind the victorious Greinton. Herat, Hatim and Alphabatim also finished ahead of Precisionist in the Big 'Cap, running 2-3-4.
Fearing that Precisionist might be overweighted for the Big 'Cap, Hooper wrote a letter before the race to Frank (Jimmy) Kilroe, overseer of Santa Anita's racing department.
"Trainers should be handicapped just like the horses are," Hooper's letter said. "Bearing this in mind, Charlie Whittingham (Greinton's trainer), because of his experience, ought to be giving quite a few pounds to Ross Fenstermaker."
Hooper closed the letter by saying: "And in case you need it for Precisionist, there's some extra lead (which horses carry to complete their weight assignments) in the racing secretary's office down here in Florida."
Kilroe has a sense of humor, but he and his committee of handicappers still gave Precisionist the top weight of 126 pounds, four more than Greinton.
Hooper does not appear disturbed over the weights for the Gold Cup, but few horsemen will ever tell a panel of handicappers that they are perfect.
Horse Racing Notes