The hunch players in a St. Patrick's Day crowd of 41,727 had been driven to distraction by the time Santa Anita ran the $154,300 Santa Ana Handicap Tuesday.
To begin with, jockey Darrel McHargue called in sick. That eliminated courtesy bets on his three mounts.
Once the races started, the results were mixed on wearing-o'-the-green connections. The only two Irish-breds on the program didn't do much running. Paygreene finished off the board in the fourth race, and Celtic Star, a 4-year-old making his first start, ran last in the sixth.
But there were some four-leaf clovers along the way. Tomocomo, ridden by Pat Valenzuela in green silks, won the third race; Fernando Toro, outfitted in a green cap, took the fifth aboard Trolley Song; and Chris McCarron, disabled for five months with a broken leg, was also wearing green when he won for the first time since Oct. 12, getting none other than Prince O' Fire to the wire first in the seventh race.
The Santa Ana presented the biggest dilemma of all as the players studied the green ink in the Santa Anita program.
Fran's Valentine was owned by Earl Scheib's Green Thumb Farm Stable. Ron McAnally was the trainer of Auspiciante. And even though the jockey on Reloy wasn't named Bill O'Shoemaker, the 55-year-old rider on the 4-year-old filly was dressed in green from cap to midriff.
When the Santa Ana was over, Reloy's owner, Nelson Bunker Hunt, could contemplate a different kind of green--the color of money--in the winner's circle. Shoemaker rode Reloy to a two-length win over Northern Aspen, a victory worth $91,300 to the Texas plutocrat, who also bred the filly via a mating of Liloy and Rescousse.
Northern Aspen, after trying to hook Reloy in the stretch and not being able to close the gap, had 3 1/2 lengths on North Sider, who ran third. The favorite, Frau Altiva, had not been training well since her third-place finish, 1 lengths behind North Sider, in the Santa Margarita on March 1, and finished fifth in the seven-horse field.
Reloy, who completed the 1 1/8-mile turf course in a good time of 1:48, was the third betting choice and paid $11.60, $5 and $4.20. Northern Aspen's payoff was $4.80 and $3.80, and North Sider returned $4.60.
It was the seventh stakes win of the season for Shoemaker, five of them with horses trained by Charlie Whittingham, who is almost 74. They have combined for about 250 stakes wins altogether, and Shoemaker's totals are 968 wins in stakes and 234 in $100,000 races. Shoemaker, Whittingham and Hunt were also the celebrants Saturday when Rosedale won the San Marino Handicap.
Reloy, who had raced in France until last November, hadn't won a race since last June. She had been second once and third twice in five American starts, just missing against Northern Aspen at Santa Anita on March 4.
"But that was only going a mile," Whittingham said. "Bill figured the pace out perfectly today. Everybody else was taking back and he went on with this filly."
Fran's Valentine, making her third start on grass, was on the lead going into the far turn when Shoemaker and Reloy shot by her. Northern Aspen was also flying past Fran's Valentine and her jockey, Gary Stevens, was thinking of the long green at that point.
"I thought I had her (Reloy) anytime I wanted her," Stevens said. "At the three-eighths pole, I was just wondering how much I'd win by. I've got no excuse. She plain got outrun."
The first time Shoemaker rode Reloy was in her last race. When he saw Tuesday that the horses up front were just galloping, Shoemaker said to himself, "The hell with this. Let's see if they can catch her."
Shoemaker felt that Reloy had something left when Northern Aspen challenged. After riding North Sider to an upset win in the Santa Margarita, Angel Cordero blamed himself because the mare didn't win again.
"I guess I looked at the paper (the Daily Racing Form) too much," Cordero said. "I over-rated her the first sixteenth and then found myself committed between horses with nowhere to go. She finished good, but would have done better if she had run her own race."
With another 4-year-old filly, Kristin, Shoemaker also won the day's last race. And sure and begorra, he was wearing green again.
Horse Racing Notes