When it rained, trainer Joe Cantey couldn't get Temperence Hill to the races fast enough.
In 1981, Cantey was the only trainer in the Belmont Stakes to put special mud shoes on his horse and Temperence Hill romped home a surprise winner, paying $108.80.
That fall, on a Belmont track that had been off all day and just changed to slick-fast, Temperence Hill pulled another upset, beating heavily favored John Henry in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
By the time Temperence Hill arrived at Louisiana Downs two weeks later, the bettors were wise. It rained again and Temperence Hill won by more than five lengths, but there was a difference in the counting house. The longshot of summer was now paying only 50 cents on the dollar.
Temperate Sil, the first stakes winner sired by Temperence Hill, apparently doesn't have the proclivity for running in the mud that his daddy did.
Three weeks ago, in the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, the track was listed as good and Temperate Sil, winner of the Hollywood Derby and the 8-5 favorite, struggled home fifth in a seven-horse field. Masterful Advocate, who won the race, was a good horse getting better, but other horses finishing ahead of Temperate Sil were Chart the Stars, who had only beaten maidens; and Hot and Smoggy, who had been claimed for $40,000.
"The way he ran that day, he couldn't have beaten $5,000 horses," says Temperate Sil's trainer, Charlie Whittingham.
Redemption looms for Temperate Sil today when he runs in the $125,000 San Felipe Handicap, the first major race for 3-year-old colts at Santa Anita this season.
The flip side to making amends is that if Temperate Sil gets a fast track and runs as poorly as he did last time, Whittingham may revert to his long-held opinion that it's silly to push a young horse into the Kentucky Derby, when you can sit back and make a lot of money later by beating the worn-out survivors of the Triple Crown series.
That theory was put into abeyance last year, when the 73-year-old Whittingham, who hadn't been to the Derby since 1960, knew what he had in Ferdinand and conquered Churchill Downs for the first time.
Temperate Sil's assignment in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe should be easier than it was in the San Rafael, if only because Masterful Advocate, who has emerged as one of the Kentucky Derby favorites, is waiting for the Santa Anita Derby April 4.
Others in today's field include the same Chart the Stars, still looking for his first win over non-maidens; Alysheba, one of last year's top 2-year-olds, but still a colt who has beaten only maidens; Simply Majestic, who ran sixth in the San Rafael; Red and Blue, an alum of the claiming class; and Barb's Relic and War, Wayne Lukas trainees who had won 2 of 21 starts until they up and won races on the same program two weeks ago.
The San Felipe has drawn nine horses and the others who may run are Something Lucky and Bold Archon. Trainer Laz Barrera, who won the San Felipe, the Santa Anita Derby and the Triple Crown with Affirmed in 1978, said that Bold Archon, fourth in the San Rafael, will run only if there's an off track; otherwise, he'll be held back for the Baldwin Stakes this Wednesday.
Whittingham is hoping for the kind of track Barrera doesn't want. "If it's off, we won't run," Whittingham said about Temperate Sil.
Barrera felt that if it rained during the races Saturday, the track would be muddy today, and Santa Anita was hit by rain during the first half of Saturday's program.
With only one start this year, wouldn't a scratch today put Temperate Sil behind schedule if he's to run in the Kentucky Derby on May 2?
"Not necessarily," Whittingham said. "We've still got the Santa Anita Derby and we can find another race for him if we think we need it. Ferdinand didn't have much more (four races) going into the Derby last year."
Although Temperate Sil's 3-year-old debut was postponed when the track came up sloppy for the San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 14, it was not because Whittingham feared that the horse wouldn't be able to handle the surface.
"Sloppy is the worst kind of condition a track can be," Whittingham said. "Horses can grab hold all right underneath, and they think it's fast and that's when they might over-extend themselves and risk injury. Temperate Sil is too valuable a horse to risk that."
Afterward, Temperate Sil worked on an off track and seemed to do all right.
But many trainers say that you can't tell in the mornings, you just don't know until horses try it in races.
"It's the only excuse I can come up with for this horse in his last race," Whittingham said. "He didn't like the track and didn't run at all."
What Jack Van Berg doesn't like about the San Felipe is the weights. Van Berg trains Alysheba, who despite just one career win has earnings of more than $360,000 and carries 120 pounds, two fewer than Temperate Sil.