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Sunset Handicap : For Whittingham, It's Easy as 1-2-3

July 28, 1987|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

Finishing 1-2-3 in a stakes race would send any other trainer into the ionosphere, but for Charlie Whittingham it's just another line on a lengthy resume that runs off the bottom of each page.

The 74-year-old Whittingham probably began the 1-2-3 sweep business in 1969, when Noholme Jr., Tell and Makor were first across the line in the Cinema Handicap.

It's an act that doesn't require refinement, just duplication. On Monday, as Hollywood Park ended its 73-day season, Whittingham pulled a triple for at least the eighth time, with Swink winning the $277,800 Sunset Handicap by two lengths, and Forlitano nosing out Rivlia for second place.

Seven other horses started in the 1 1/2-mile grass race, and they ran the way the crowd of 27,482 had rated them on the tote board. The Swink-Rivlia entry went off at 3-5. Forlitano, at 7-1, was the second choice.

Nelson Bunker Hunt, who owns Swink and Rivlia, remained in Dallas, to attend a Texas Ranger game, while the two horses he bred brought in $202,800 of the purse. Swink, timed in 2:25 after making a run on the outside that carried him past Forlitano and Rivlia at the end, paid $3.20, $2.60 and $2.80. Forlitano returned $4.60 and $5.80 .

Whittingham won the Sunset for the 10th time and twice before had done a 1-2-3 number: With Caucasus, King Pellinore and Riot in Paris in 1976, and with Inkerman, Balzac and Obraztsovy in 1980.

Bill Shoemaker, who with Swink and Temperate Sil in the Swaps won major races on the last two days of the season, has a record in the Sunset that is even more extraordinary than Whittingham's. Shoemaker, who will be 56 next month, has won the Sunset 13 times, spanning four decades. He won two in the 1950s, starting with Swaps in 1956, added three in the 1960s and five in the 1970s, and has won in 1980, '81 and now '87.

Swink's Sunset gave Whittingham his eighth stakes win of the season and Shoemaker his seventh, both highs for the meeting.

"Turning for home, I wasn't worried because they were all together," Whittingham said. "Swink only had to carry 112 pounds, and he's a definite distance horse. Now he's also showing some speed, which he didn't have when I first got him."

That was late last year, after the Liloy-Swiss 4-year-old had won 1 of 10 starts in Europe.

Swink won his second start in the United States, at Santa Anita in January, but in the San Marcos Handicap he was crowded into the fence before finishing fourth. Whittingham rested him for 4 1/2 months.

Swink was second and fifth in his two starts after coming back, the fifth in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park, which at 1 1/8 miles was hardly enough time for him to get warmed up.

"At a mile and a half and farther, this horse can run all day," Shoemaker said. "It got a little hairy at the three-eighths pole, because my entry (Rivlia) ran around me.

"I steadied my horse and just waited. Then I followed the other horse, and when I asked my horse, he answered me."

Several jockeys came by Shoemaker's locker to shake his hand. "This must be the 9,000th time I've done this," Pat Valenzuela said.

Whittingham, who on Sept. 6 will be trying to win the Budweiser-Arlington Million for the third time, now has four possible starters--Swink, Rivlia, Le Belvedere and Ferdinand. All four won during the Hollywood season, although Ferdinand's Hollywood Gold Cup victory was on dirt. The 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, unsuccessful on grass so far, will get another chance in the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 15.

"I have four horses, but they may not all get invitations to the Million," Whittingham said.

That might be the only way they will prevent him from reviving his 1-2-3 act in Chicago.

There was a rally at the end, but Hollywood Park still finished with attendance and handle figures that represent an alarming drop from more prosperous days.

Daily attendance this summer averaged 22,595, the lowest total since 1941. The handle finished at $4.8 million, the lowest since 1979. This year's attendance reportedly included the early bird bettors for the last month. They are the bettors who wagered in the mornings, when no admission is charged, and then didn't stay to watch the races in the afternoon.

Attendance was off 3.2% from last year and betting was down 3%. There has been an 11% drop in betting since Hollywood Park's record year of $5.4 million in 1985.

Laffit Pincay won the riding championship with 76 wins, which was five more than Chris McCarron. Dick Mandella won the training title with 23 winners, edging out Laz Barrera, Mel Stute and Gary Jones, who tied for second with 22 wins apiece.

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