This has been a year when Autumn Glitter has had almost every reason to lose except having her saddle slip.
Maybe the 4-year-old filly's luck is finally changing. On Sunday, in the $154,800 Las Palmas Handicap, Autumn Glitter got through heavy traffic in the stretch, didn't have to worry about favored Short Sleeves because her saddle slipped, and then prevailed by a head in a three-horse photo finish before 37,632 fans at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Pat Day, who had won another grass stake, the Man o' War, with Theatrical at Aqueduct on Saturday, Autumn Glitter was between Festivity on the outside and Galunpe on the inside at the wire.
Galunpe, whose rider, Chris McCarron, said that he moved with his filly too soon, finished second, nosing out Festivity.
Short Sleeves, who went off at 2-1 because of three stakes wins at three tracks in a month, ran sixth in the eight-horse field. The 800-pound mare and her rider, Gary Stevens, were fortunate to even complete the race after her saddle slipped going by the finish line the first time in the 1 1/8-mile race.
Short Sleeves' saddle also slipped when she ran sixth in the Miss America Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last June.
"I've saddled thousands of horses and the only times I've had the saddle slip are the two times with this horse," trainer Darrell Vienna said.
Vienna had taken special precautions with Short Sleeves Sunday, putting a chamois and a spongy girth guard under her saddle.
"One of the owners even reminded me in the paddock about the saddle problem," Vienna said. "But you can only tighten the saddle so much. The problem is a combination of her small size and the fact that she pulls so much. Gary told me that he can't remember a horse of any size pulling as hard as this one does."
Stevens was sore even before the Las Palmas, having been involved in a spill a few days ago.
"On the backstretch, I tried to pop the saddle back with my feet and I almost fell off," Stevens said. "This was a lot worse than the day it happened in San Francisco.
"But somehow I still had horse going into the stretch. I can't believe she ran sixth. The saddle was over the point of her withers when it started slipping."
Autumn Glitter, who was bred and is owned by Franklin Groves of Minneapolis, had won only 3 of 11 starts this year, running mostly in the Midwest.
Her record reads like the log of a kamikaze squadron: She clipped heels in one race, threw a shoe in another, got squeezed coming out of the gate and got trapped behind horses.
Carl Nafzger, Autumn Glitter's trainer, even shipped her to River Downs in Cincinnati, where she would have been a heavy favorite in a $150,000 race, but she couldn't run because the stake's earnings rule applied to the last two years.
Autumn Glitter, a daughter of Exceller and Confirm, won her only two starts in 1986, but they netted her just $3,000.
Sunday's win was worth $91,800 and increased Autumn Glitter's earnings this year to $235,000. It was another struggle, though, that for several moments had the earmarks of another hard-luck trip.
Benzina, who had the lead, was coming off the fence in upper stretch, and Day was trying to split her and Galunpe. Short Sleeves, thanks to Stevens' balancing act, was still in contention, but backing up into Day's face.
"I had to wait until I could get out of all that," Day said. "This filly should have had more No. 1s in her column, but she's been plagued by misfortune. She deserves some good breaks for a change."
Running in 1:50 2/5 on a soft course that was listed as good, Autumn Glitter paid $27, $9.40 and $5. Galunpe paid $7.20 and $4.80 and Festivity paid $3. Smooch was a late scratch.
Short Sleeves will have another shot at Autumn Glitter in the $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita on Nov. 15. The horses will be old friends by then, since Nafzger will be leaving her in Vienna's barn while he rejoins his horses in the Midwest.
Nafzger and Vienna are good friends. Coming off the track after Sunday's race, Nafzger shook Vienna's hand and said: "I wanted to beat you, but I wished it could have fair and square."
Horse Racing Notes