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Horse Racing / Bill Christine : Third Try in Breeders' Cup Could Be Charm for Fran's Valentine

October 10, 1986|BILL CHRISTINE

Fran's Valentine is a stayer, in the sense that she may be only one of two horses who will have run in the Breeders' Cup races all three years they have been held.

The other likely two-time repeater in the Breeders' Cup, when the seven races worth $10 million are run at Santa Anita Nov. 1, is Precisionist. After running seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park in 1984, Precisionist competed in the Sprint last year at Aqueduct because sore feet prevented him from being trained for a distance race. Precisionist won the six-furlong Aqueduct race and a month later was voted the Eclipse Award as the national sprint champion.

This year, Precisionist is ready to run in the 1-mile Classic again, with his owner, Fred Hooper, hoping that a victory might lead to Horse of the Year honors.

Fran's Valentine has a more difficult assignment than Precisionist in the Breeders' Cup, since Earl Scheib's 4-year-old filly must face Lady's Secret, who will be the heavy favorite in the $1-million Distaff Stakes. The talented Hidden Light is also being prepared for the Distaff.

Joe Manzi, who trains Fran's Valentine, is well aware of the challenge that Lady's Secret presents.

"Lady's Secret is a real good one, all right," Manzi said the other morning, surrounded by an assortment of dogs in his barn office at Santa Anita.

"But no race is easy to win for anybody, especially one worth a million dollars."

Manzi and the 78-year-old Scheib know all about the difficulties in winning a $1-million race. Fran's Valentine, a 74-1 shot, finished first in the 1984 Breeders' Cup's $1-million Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Hollywood Park, beating Outstandingly by a half-length.

Scheib, the mass-market automobile painter, headed for the winner's circle with four or five friends. Pat Valenzuela, who rode Fran's Valentine, had the filly back at the finish line and was getting off.

"When I got down there and saw Pat crying, I knew we were in trouble," Scheib said. "But I didn't complain. I just went back to my seat."

The stewards penalized Fran's Valentine for bearing out at the top of the stretch, bumping a horse and causing a chain reaction that affected a few others. Instead of winning $450,000 for first place, Scheib got nothing as Fran's Valentine was moved back to 10th in the 11-horse race.

Unlike Valenzuela, Scheib didn't cry, even though tears would have been an understandable reaction, considering his affection for Fran's Valentine. The filly is completely home-grown, the result of a mating between Saros and Iza Valentine, horses Scheib owns.

Foaled on Valentine's Day in 1982, Fran's Valentine is named after Scheib's late wife, who died in March, 1984. Scheib's Green Thumb Farm in Chino got its name because Fran Scheib raised beautiful orchids.

In the Distaff last year at Aqueduct, Fran's Valentine finished fifth after running uncomfortably and confirming what Manzi already suspected, that the filly couldn't handle deep racing surfaces in the East. Before that, Fran's Valentine ran ineffectively at Keeneland, Saratoga and Belmont Park.

Fran's Valentine's win in the Kentucky Oaks last year was not an exception to the pattern, since that race was run over an especially hard Churchill Downs strip that was favorable for Manzi's horse but punishing for several runners in the Kentucky Derby the next day.

Santa Anita and Del Mar are tracks that work well for Fran's Valentine. She's a multiple stakes winner at Santa Anita and won the Chula Vista Handicap at Del Mar in August, beating heavily favored Dontstop Themusic.

"Del Mar was good and firm this year," Manzi said. "Whether this horse fires depends entirely on whether she likes the track."

Perhaps looking for a way to eventually duck Lady's Secret, Manzi tried Fran's Valentine on grass for the first time during the Del Mar meeting. She finished third in the Palomar Handicap, then ran fifth against a better field in the Ramona Handicap.

"One of her races on grass was good, and the other one was not so good," Manzi said. "Her dirt races have been better, and that's why we've got her back on dirt."

Soundness has permitted Fran's Valentine to run in two Breeders' Cup events and to await a third try.

"She's never had anything physically wrong with her," Manzi said. "The only time she's been away from the track has been when we sent her to the farm for a rest. Matt Griffin is the manager there, and you never have to worry about him. He treats her like she was one of his kids."

Although the odds are against them, Manzi and Scheib would like to think that the Breeders' Cup will treat Fran's Valentine better than it has the first two years. They'd like to win a $1-million race and actually collect the money.

Delicate Vine, whose undefeated streak ended last Sunday in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita, has been retired because of injuries suffered in the race.

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