DEL MAR — Before this year's English Derby, the King brothers from Century City knew something.
Frank and Herman King knew that Dancing Brave was a good horse and they were willing to pay more than $1 million to buy him.
Representatives of Khaled Abdullah, a prince in the royal family of Saudi Arabia, rejected the offer. Frank King says that he and his brother increased their first bid to $1.4 million. Still, it was no sale.
"You probably couldn't get the horse now for $12 million," Frank King said the other day at Del Mar, where he and his brother have five horses with trainer John Sadler.
A figure of $21 million is more like it. That's the approximate book value for the breeding syndicate that Khaled Abdullah has put together, and that was before Dancing Brave, a son of Lyphard and a grandson of Northern Dancer, got even with Shahrastani in last Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Epsom.
Shahrastani, who is owned by the Aga Khan, ran fourth behind Dancing Brave in the King George, after becoming the eighth horse to win both the English and Irish derbies. Dancing Brave, who didn't run in the Irish Derby, finished second in the English Derby, a race that many observers thought he should have won but for a botched ride by Greville Starkey.
On Wednesday, Guy Harwood, Dancing Brave's trainer, announced that the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old colt would run in the Arc de Triomphe, France's showcase race, on Oct. 5, and then the horse will be brought to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 1.
At Santa Anita, the King brothers will be able to see first hand the horse that their $1 million couldn't buy.
A familiar scenario after a horse loses a big race is for the owner to criticize the trainer, who in turn knocks the jockey, who passes the word on to the horse, who is unavailable for comment.
Such a chain of blame didn't materialize after Phone Trick suffered the first loss of his career, finishing second, more than six lengths behind Groovy, in the Tom Fool Stakes at Belmont Park July 20.
For one thing, Dick Mandella, the trainer of Phone Trick, is also one of the 4-year-old colt's owners, and the buck stopped at Mandella's door after the horse's nine-race winning streak ended.
Mandella said that he made a mistake in telling Jorge Velasquez, Phone Trick's jockey, to take back on the horse in an attempt to rate him shortly after the start of the seven-furlong race. Velasquez followed those instructions and the speedy Groovy got away from them and was never headed.
"I thought that would be the race to experiment, but I was wrong," Mandella said. "I underestimated Groovy, and we couldn't spot him that lead while also carrying 12 more pounds."
Groovy is a lot like Herat, the free-running colt who was favored Precisionist's undoing the same day, in the Hollywood Gold Cup. These horses frequently are incapable of carrying their speed all the way to the wire, but they can be strategic factors for other horses in the race.
In the Kentucky Derby, Groovy had more to do with several horses losing the race than the horses themselves. He blazed almost unheard-of early fractions and the horses that tried to keep up were still with him at the end--trouble was, Groovy finished last in the 16-horse field.
Groovy didn't quit in the Tom Fool, however, and he won his fourth race in 14 starts while running for his ninth trainer, Jose Martin.
"I don't know about the other trainers, but he's got a good one now," said Mandella, who was an assistant trainer in New York before returning to his native California about 12 years ago.
Mandella said Phone Trick will stay in the East for his next race, which might be the seven-furlong Forego Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 17. Another race Mandella has in mind is the seven-furlong Budweiser Breeders' Cup Stakes at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 27.
If Phone Trick runs in the Saratoga race, one of his opponents figures to be Turkoman, another colt with championship aspirations who will be making a comeback from an internal illness.
Trainer Lin Wheeler claimed Gourami for $100,000 out of a race that the 4-year-old colt won for his breeder, Vern Winchell, at Santa Anita last February.
At Ak-Sar-Ben last Saturday, Gourami won the Cornhusker Handicap for his fourth straight win at the Omaha track.
Gourami, whose Ak-Sar-Ben purses total about $250,000, has given Wheeler six straight wins at the track in the last two seasons, another victory being Lady Dom Alaric's first-place finish there in the Ak-Sar-Ben Oaks last year.
Alex Solis didn't ride at Del Mar Wednesday, taking the day off to celebrate the birth of his second child and first daughter. Solis' wife, Sheila, is the daughter of trainer Bert Sonnier. . . . The date of the 1987 Breeders' Cup races at Hollywood Park has been changed from Nov. 14 to Nov. 21, partly because of a programming conflict at NBC, which will carry the four-hour telecast. . . . Teleprompter, the English-bred gelding who won last year's Budweiser-Arlington Million at 14-1, is expected to run again in this year's race, scheduled for Aug. 31. . . . The thoroughbred stakes schedule for the Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex Park in Pomona includes two $100,000 races--the Pomona Derby on Sept. 27 and the Pomona Invitational Handicap on Sept. 28. The top quarter-horse stake at the fair is the estimated $200,000 Breeders Futurity on Sept. 21. Dates for the 18-day fair season are Sept. 11-28.