ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Fernando Toro has not been riding well at Del Mar this season. Through Saturday, Toro had won only eight races out of 103 mounts and two of those came via disqualifications.
Any time a 45-year-old jockey goes into a slump, rumors outnumber the horses on a track's backstretch. The rumors at Del Mar in recent weeks were that Toro might be retiring at the end of the year.
Late Sunday, in a trailer that served as a cramped jockeys' room at Arlington Park, the track that was burned down by a fire a year ago, Toro was asked about the retirement rumors.
"Who would feed my family if I did that?" said the Chilean rider who came to the United States in 1966.
Toro will not have to worry about feeding his family this week. Long considered a master at winning races on the grass--"Toro on the turf" has been a catch phrase at California tracks for more than a decade--the rider the other jockeys call "The Bull" gave Estrapade one of the most skillful rides of his career Sunday in the Budweiser-Arlington Million.
Estrapade, shoehorned by Toro through a keyhole-sized opening between two horses with five-eighths of a mile to go, ran off from 13 opponents to win laughing by five lengths, the biggest winning margin in the six-year history of the Million.
The win was worth $600,000 to Allen Paulson, the Encino airplane builder. Two days after Estrapade won the Yellow Ribbon Invitational at Santa Anita last November, Paulson, who already owned a 20% interest, paid $4.5 million at auction to become sole owner of the 6-year-old Vaguely Noble-Klepto mare.
For his part, Toro presumably will collect $60,000, the standard 10% jockey's share of the purse.
Part of a four-horse entry with Al Mamoon, Palace Music and Theatrical--Paulson is part owner of Palace Music and Theatrical--Estrapade paid $6.20, $3.80 and $2.60 in a crowd of 30,467, which was about 6,000 less than a year ago. That race was run only three weeks after the main track building was destroyed in a $100-million fire. Maybe last year's fans remembered the long lines at the rest rooms and elsewhere, because this year's makeshift, tent-show facilities were similar.
Divulge, a 34-1 longshot, a $90,000 claiming horse a year ago and a colt whose jockey, Jean Cruguet, thought shouldn't even be here, led the Million for three-quarters of a mile and lasted for second, paying $22 and $9.60. Divulge was a head better than Pennine Walk, who paid $6.60 to show as the best finisher among five European horses.
After the first three, the order of finish was Uptown Swell, Palace Music, Flying Pidgeon, Teleprompter, Al Mamoon, Over the Ocean, Theatrical, Creme Fraiche, Alphabatim, Maysoon and Zoffany. Estrapade, becoming the first female to win the race, was timed in 2:00 4/5 for the 1 miles, which was two seconds slower than Perrault took in setting the track record in this race in 1982.
The major disappointments in the race were the tail-enders, Maysoon and Zoffany and to a lesser extent Al Mamoon and Teleprompter, who won the Million last year.
Maysoon, the only other female in the field and a 3-year-old carrying 114 pounds, which was eight less than Estrapade and 12 less than the others, broke from the next-to-outside post position, but showed flashes of early speed.
"She was rank (difficult to handle) the first eighth of a mile," said Chris McCarron, riding Maysoon for the first time. "But still we were third, which was about where we wanted to be.
"But it didn't look like she wanted to run. She stopped at the half-mile pole, which maybe says that she didn't take to the track. I had seen most of her previous races on tape, and this didn't look like the same filly in this race."
Zoffany, voted the third-best male turf horse in North America last year and winner of the major Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park this season, had a more discernible excuse.
"He came back lame after the race," said Eddie Delahoussaye, Zoffany's jockey. "Not dead lame, but lame. Something might have happened on the first turn. He broke all right, but once we hit the backstretch, I knew we were in trouble."
Teleprompter, the English horse who had a string of close-up but non-winning finishes since his upset victory at 14-1 in the Million last year, still had his supporters on Sunday. Off at 10-1, Teleprompter was near the early leaders--Divulge and Al Mamoon--before fading at the top of the stretch and finishing seventh.
"He didn't jump out of his stall," said Tony Ives, Teleprompter's jockey. "And after being wide at the start, he made up some ground on the backstretch before beginning to tire."
Stamina was also the problem for Al Mamoon, seldom effective going 1 miles. Al Mamoon was not far behind Divulge for a mile, but finished eighth.
"When Estrapade went by us (on the far turn), my horse tried to keep up and just couldn't," said Pat Valenzuela, Al Mamoon's rider. "He was sitting easy until then. Maybe the workout the other day had something to do it."