Shortly before the running of the 1980 Arc de Triomphe, France's most important race, Bruce McNall bought an interest in a 3-year-old named Argument.
The colt finished second in the Arc, then several weeks later came to the United States and won the Washington D.C. International at Laurel, Md.
Now, McNall has done even better with a newly purchased horse in the Arc. The 37-year-old Beverly Hills entrepreneur, who among other things is president and 49% owner of the Kings in the National Hockey League, paid a reported $1 million Sept. 29 for 50% of Trempolino, another European-raced 3-year-old.
Sunday, five days after McNall became an equal partner in the horse with Frenchman Paul de Moussac, Trempolino won the race that had eluded Argument. Trempolino upset several of Europe's best runners, including the heavily favored Reference Point, winning the 1 1/2-mile race in record time and earning $650,000. It was later determined Reference Point had suffered a leg injury in the race.
Just like Argument, Trempolino will next tackle the best grass runners in the United States. He will be flown here shortly before the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park Nov. 21 to run in the $2-million Turf Stakes.
Andre Fabre, one of France's leading trainers, will saddle Trempolino in the Breeders' Cup and the colt will be ridden by Pat Eddery, who won his third straight Arc aboard Trempolino.
After that, Trempolino will remain at Santa Anita with Charlie Whittingham, who needs another good grass runner like he needs a haircut. A decision on whether Trempolino will run next year or be sent to stud won't be made until after the Breeders' Cup.
Trempolino won only twice in eight starts before the Arc, which he took at 20-1 odds, but he had never finished worse than fourth. This year, he won a stake in France and finished second in the French Derby.
McNall had been interested in Trempolino since he saw the colt run as a 2-year-old, but he and De Moussac couldn't strike a deal until last week. Trempolino's sire, Sharpen Up, who stands at John Gaines' farm in Lexington, Ky., has accounted for eight European champions, including Pebbles, the filly who won the Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes at Aqueduct in 1985. There is Northern Dancer blood on the side of Trephine, Trempolino's dam.
With Manila and Dance of Life, two of America's top grass horses, retired because of injuries, McNall also felt before the Arc that Trempolino might be the kind of horse who could beat Theatrical, now the probable favorite in the Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes.
Dancing Brave, last year's Arc winner, came to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup and finished a disappointing fourth as a 1-2 favorite. That result is said to be discouraging European horsemen from bringing their runners to California this year. But Trempolino will run--McNall had the Breeders' Cup commitment written into his pre-Arc agreement with De Moussac.
"We think the idea that European horses can't ship here and win is fiction," said Steve Nesenblatt, who manages McNall's racing interests. "Dancing Brave didn't (fail to) win because of shipping; he ran a dull race because he had too tough of a campaign before the Breeders' Cup.
"Actually, the Europeans have done quite well in the Breeders' Cup. Look at Pebbles, Last Tycoon and Lashkari. They all came from over there to win here."
Because of recent legislation, Del Mar may be able to start televised betting on races from Santa Anita and Hollywood Park next month. The Del Mar facility would certainly like to be ready in time for the Breeders' Cup, which could be the biggest betting day of the year.
Under the bill written by Sen. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), the four Los Angeles-area tracks--Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos and Fairplex Park--will be able to offer betting during Del Mar's seven-week season next summer. And Del Mar will become a year-around betting site--live and via satellite--as a result of Maddy's bill.
There is also the possibility that nine Northern California fairgrounds sites, plus Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, will offer betting on the night quarter horse season starting at Los Alamitos Oct. 16. Northern California tracks and fairgrounds have been open for satellite betting on races within their area for more than a year.
By one estimate, satellite wagering in Southern California could reach $400 million a year. How much that will affect track attendance and handle is of concern to some track officials, especially those at Del Mar.
"I rode a lot of horses in my day," trainer Mish Tenney said Sunday night at Santa Anita. "A horse I never rode carried me the farthest."
Tenney was talking about Swaps, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1955 and was voted Horse of the Year in 1956.