DEL MAR — After Take My Picture, the 2-5 favorite, had run last in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar Aug. 10, trainer Gary Lewis suspected that something was going on.
Lewis noticed that L.G. (Dusty) Rhodes, the 78-year-old Abilene, Tex., oilman who bred and owns the usually swift 4-year-old filly, was spending a lot of time on the Del Mar backstretch with a bloodstock agent.
"Every time I'd come up to them when I saw them talking, they'd clam up until I went away," Lewis said. "Not only that, it was strange that Rhodes wouldn't have gone home after the race, like he always does."
Lewis wasn't being paranoid. A few days after the Rancho Bernardo, Rhodes told Lewis that he was switching trainers, moving Take My Picture to Ron McAnally's barn.
McAnally, who trained John Henry for most of a career that produced a record $6.5 million in purses, won the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding trainer in 1981. Lewis had trained only one stakes winner before Take My Picture came along.
"If it hadn't been McAnally, it would have been somebody else," Lewis said. "I heard that they were trying to get Bobby Frankel (a California trainer who has spent the Del Mar season with the New York division of his stable), but they couldn't find him to talk."
Frankel said that his representative had been contacted, but that Rhodes considered Frankel's rates too high. Frankel charges $60 a horse per day, plus 10% of purses for himself and 3 1/2% for stable assistants.
Horses--even good horses such as Take My Picture--are always eligible for trainer changes, the percentage of fickleness among owners probably being higher than the general population's. An extreme example the last two years has been Groovy, the stakes-winning New York 3-year-old who is now being handled by his ninth trainer.
Gary Lewis' antennae might have picked up the warning signals, but it was still a jolt to him. The loss of Take My Picture leaves the 45-year-old Lewis with a two-horse stable and his horses are just horses. On the backstretch at Del Mar, Lewis might have the biggest barn sign--"Gary Lewis Racing Stable"--and the smallest representation.
"You lose one race and you're a bum," said Lewis, who made an unusual move into racing 12 years ago when he quit his job as a pharmacist in Santa Monica.
Making her first start since extending a winning streak to four races in the Silver Spoon Handicap at Hollywood Park in April, Take My Picture reared up in the gate in the Rancho Bernardo. Lewis says she ran the race in a daze and came back with a wrenched ankle.
The injury made a truism out of an off-hand remark Lewis had made before the stake: "There's only one way to win, but there are a lot of ways to lose a race."
Take My Picture, who was sent to Lewis at Santa Anita in April of 1985 after running in New Mexico and the Midwest, had won the Rancho Bernardo last year. The Texas-bred filly won three more stakes for Lewis, increasing her earnings to almost $500,000.
"When I took her, somebody had ground her to a pulp," Lewis said. "She was really in bad shape. The trainer that had her before should have been shot."
Lewis says that when Take My Picture recovered from a throat infection and he got her ready to run again, "people who had first saw her couldn't believe she was the same horse."
Rhodes said in the Daily Racing Form that he sent Take My Picture to McAnally because he needed a trainer whose operation would enable him to run the filly in out-of-town stakes.
"I don't know why I couldn't have run her out of town," Lewis said. "I was looking at a race for her at Arlington Park, but part of the purse was a Breeders' Cup supplement and she isn't eligible for the Breeders' Cup."
When Rhodes broke the news about Take My Picture to Lewis, he told the trainer that he would be giving him a $5,000 bonus.
Lewis will take the money, because he believes that his work in making Take My Picture a top sprinter was worth at least that. But when Rhodes also offered to send another of his horses to Lewis, the trainer said no. Gary Lewis might be down to his last two horses, but he'll try to build up that stable his own way.
Horse Racing Notes Heavily favored Tasso, last year's 2-year-old of the year, rallied through the stretch to score a 3-length victory Friday in the $55,450 El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds. In winning for the seventh time in 13 lifetime starts, Tasso, who carried 117 pounds, was clocked in 1:41 4/5 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast track. The Eclipse Award winner drove to the lead entering the stretch and drew off strongly through the final furlong under Laffit Pincay. Southern Halo, ridden by Bill Shoemaker, finished second, a half-length in front of Bright Tom, ridden by Gary Stevens, in a field of nine. Tasso, who earned $32,950 for the victory, had been sidelined with a respiratory ailment since finishing third behind Snow Chief in the Jersey Derby last May. . . . Today, the track's feature will be the $50,000 Escondido Handicap, with Ice Hot the top weight at 122. Ice Hot broke the grass-course record by running 1 1/16 miles, the distance of the Escondido, in 1:40 in his last start.