HIALEAH, Fla. — As has been his style throughout a controversial career, Angel Cordero went from bad guy to good guy in a little more than an hour Saturday at Hialeah.
Soon after he finished fourth on Gulch, a 4-5 favorite, in the Key West Stakes, sending the colt's trainer, LeRoy Jolley, muttering into the afternoon because of his hurry-up tactics, Cordero returned to give Talinum, another 3-year-old, a crafty ride for a half-length win over favored Cryptoclearance in the $450,000 Flamingo Stakes.
Jeff Lukas, who has been Talinum's trainer for most of his young career, had nothing but kudos for Cordero's alert ride in the Flamingo, which is the first of seven major races that prepare horses for the Kentucky Derby.
"It was tremendous how Angel rode this horse," the younger Lukas said. "Despite breaking from the No. 9 post position (in a 14-horse field), he had him only two horses wide going into the first turn, which had as much as anything to do with winning the race.
"Then he waited for the race to develop, and when he knew he couldn't get through at the top of the stretch, he swung the horse wide and closed ground the way many of the winning horses were doing all day."
The 45-year-old Cordero had never won the Flamingo, being disqualified in favor of Wise Exchange after he had finished first with Iron Ruler here in 1968.
Two races before Saturday's Flamingo, the trainers' reviews on Cordero were not nearly as appreciative. Jolley disapproved of the way Cordero rushed Gulch, another prime Kentucky Derby candidate, up on the leaders in the Key West. Gulch trailed Mr. Zippity Do Dah, Bet Twice and Valid Prospect across the finish line.
"You just have to roll with the punches," Cordero said after Talinum's $275,000 victory in the Flamingo. "I don't think LeRoy was upset, he was just disappointed. Gulch's start was not good--he broke in the air--and that forced me to rush him into contention."
Running 1 1/8 miles in a slow 1:50 before 26,989 fans, Talinum paid $20.20, $7.40 and $4. Cryptoclearance, finishing two lengths ahead of Leo Castelli, returned $3 and $2.40. Leo Castelli's show price was $3.80.
After the first three, the order of finish was Rupperto, No More Flowers, Momsfurrari, Manhattan's Woody, The Real Truth, Conquistarose, Avies Copy, Bourgeois, Proudest Duke, Schism and Fly Fly Fly, who stopped stopped stopped after leading for the first half-mile.
Conquistarose, from the vaunted Woody Stephens barn and a dual stakes winner as a 2-year-old, was a disappointing ninth as the 5-2 second choice. Conquistarose was fourth on the far turn and seemed to be threatening when he backed up badly.
"He made a big move on his own," said Eddie Maple, who rode Conquistarose.
"But when we hit the three-eighths pole, he just didn't respond. He didn't pick up the bit."
Besides Talinum, the Lukas barn finds itself with another leading Kentucky Derby candidate in Capote, last year's champion 2-year-old colt, who has been training satisfactorily at Hollywood Park and is due to make his first appearance of the year in about a month. Jeff Lukas said Saturday that Talinum, who is owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt, would probably run next in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 22 and then possibly remain at that nearby track for the Florida Derby on April 4.
The Lukas barn also won the Flamingo last year with Badger Land. In the Kentucky Derby, however, Badger Land finished fifth, the 10th time the Lukas operation had failed at Churchill Downs. The best Lukas finish was a third by Partez in 1981.
Cordero was riding Talinum for only the second time, the pair having finished third in the Los Feliz Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 14. That was the second lackluster performance at Santa Anita by Talinum, who was a distant fourth in the Santa Catalina on Jan. 28.
As a 2-year-old, Talinum had run much better in New York, finishing a strong second to Java Gold in the Remsen at Aqueduct in November.
Before Talinum was flown to Florida from California last Monday, Wayne Lukas, who remained in California, said that Floridians might see a different horse in the Flamingo.
"Forget about those two races at Santa Anita," he said. "The track was too firm for him there and he didn't like running on it. Go back to his New York form, where the surface is deeper and more like he'll also be running on at Hialeah."
Talinum had been scheduled to run in the Hollywood Futurity late last year, but he developed a cough that took him out of action for 10 days. "In the long run, maybe the time he missed will be beneficial," Jeff Lukas said. "It's made him a fresher horse this year."
The horses that went to the lead in the Flamingo--Fly Fly Fly, Manhattan's Woody and No More Flowers--were nowhere to be seen at the finish. Cryptoclearance, who was 10th after a half-mile, had the lead heading for home, with Leo Castelli just behind him, but on the outside, about six horses wide, Cordero had Talinum on the move.
"The winner was just better today," said Jose Santos, riding Cryptoclearance. "There was plenty of early pace, so I didn't have to rush my horse. He responded when I asked him at the half-mile pole, but the other horse just ran a big race."
Jean Cruguet, who was aboard Leo Castelli, is still extremely high on his colt, who was making only the fourth start of his career. Before the race, Cruguet had said: "They might beat this horse in the Flamingo, because he needs the experience, but it might be the last time they beat him."
Late Saturday, Cruguet was just as confident. "The only trouble I had was the two horses that finished in front of me," he said. "I'll bet that he beats these horses the next time."
The rematch with Talinum could come in the Florida Derby, and Gulfstream Park's racing strip is not much different than Hialeah's. Leo Castelli and the others will have to show marked improvement to keep up with this latest Lukas hopeful.