If Dick Mandella wins the first outright championship of his training career, some of the credit must go to Poley, the 8-year-old gelding who still knows how to win even though he's not good enough to run in stakes races anymore.
Mandella, 35, goes into the last five days of the Hollywood Park season with 23 victories, which, barring a hot finish by Mel Stute, Laz Barrera or Gary Jones, should be enough to take the title.
Mandella has never won a track's season championship by himself, although he and Loren Rettele did tie for the fall title at Hollywood in 1982.
This season, Mandella's 23 wins have been provided by 19 horses. The double winners in his barn are Crystal Run, Word Harvest, Green Isar--and Poley.
When Poley won the third race last Saturday at Hollywood, it was only the 10th victory of his career, but he's now a horse with earnings of almost $625,000.
The money used to come in bunches--his breeder-owners, Hal Oliver and Sam Bretzfield, collected $156,900 when he won the 1984 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita--but now Poley is a nickel and dimer, running for claiming prices of $40,000 to $50,000.
Because Poley is a claimer, Mandella is reluctant to discuss the horse's physical condition, but obviously he has had his problems. He once went 12 months without running, and in 1985-86 he didn't win a race, running only seven times.
"We've invested a lot of time with this horse, but he's paid us back," Mandella said.
And if the trainer wins the Hollywood Park title by only two races, it will be Poley who made the difference.
By rights, the list of leading horses according to career earnings should be cluttered with asterisks.
Lady's Secret, who became the No. 1 female earner with a win in a $25,000 race at Monmouth Park Tuesday, moved into sixth place on the overall list. She is one of only 4 horses in the top 10 whose total isn't affected by bonus money or foreign earnings, which make the list virtually meaningless.
Snow Chief, fourth with $3.3 million; Precisionist, fifth with $3 million, and Spectacular Bid, ninth with $2.7 million, also won their money in straight purses, as did Lady's Secret, whose total is about $52,000 behind Precisionist.
John Henry's leading $6.5-million total was inflated by a $500,000 bonus for winning two races, the Turf at Belmont Park and the Ballantine's race at the Meadowlands.
Spend a Buck, second with $4.2 million, came by almost half of that--a $2-million bonus--by winning three races at Garden State Park and the Kentucky Derby.
Slew o' Gold's $3.5 million includes a $1-million bonus for sweeping the fall handicap series at Belmont Park.
All Along, who was the No. 1 female earner before Lady's Secret, received a $1-million bonus for sweeping three grass races in Canada and the United States.
Symboli Rudolph is eighth on the list with $2.9 million, all of it earned in Japan. In his only U.S. start--which qualified him for the Daily Racing Form's list--Symboli Rudolph was injured while running sixth in the San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita. It was the last race of his career.
Trinycarol, a South American horse in 10th place with $2.6 million, earned only $2,625 in the United States, that for finishing fourth in a four-horse race at Del Mar.
There's a place for bonuses--to induce better horses to run in a race--but the place for bonus earnings is with an asterisk alongside, so the reader can make whatever he wants of the listings.
The Maktoum brothers from oil-rich Dubai have become so influential at Keeneland's exclusive two-day yearling sale that what they do determines the rise and fall of the market.
This week, the Maktoums spent $31.3 million or so at Keeneland, which was 29% of the total outlay of $109.5 million for 295 horses.
The Maktoums' market share was 9% less than they spent a year ago, however, and that 9% matched the overall drop in this year's sale. The average yearling cost $371,369 this year, compared to the market peak of $598,183 in 1984.
The Maktoums paid $3.7 million for a Northern Dancer colt Tuesday, which was the top price of the sale and the 16th-highest ever paid for a yearling. Northern Dancer, at 26, finally started to slow down at stud this year, and has been retired.
Trainer Wayne Lukas, who represents several investors, was the second-highest buyer, taking 13 horses for $7.7 million.
Lukas' most expensive purchase, a colt named Seattle Angle, cost $2.9 million. Seattle Angle has championship breeding on both sides. His sire, Seattle Slew, was horse of the year in 1977, and his dam, Smart Angle, won 2-year-old filly honors in 1979.