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BREEDERS' CUP : Turf : Theatrical Leaves the Theatrics to His Squabbling Owners

November 22, 1987|JOHN CHERWA | Times Assistant Sports Editor

Somehow it's fitting that one of the biggest controversies during Breeders' Cup week at Hollywood Park was over what color silks a jockey was going to wear.

It's not a simple story, but it does have a happy ending. It's also a rather silly story, sprinkled with rich people, midnight meetings and a lot of animosity.

But most of all it's a Theatrical story, which is the point of all this nonsense.

Theatrical, who presumably didn't care whose colors jockey Pat Day was wearing, won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf on Saturday afternoon. It was a brilliant win in which this 5-year-old horse briefly gave up the lead entering the stretch only the regain it by the finish. In the process, Theatrical made his bid for horse of the year and pretty much assured himself of the top turf horse award.

The story started in 1985, just before the second Breeders' Cup, when Allen Paulson bought 50% interest in Theatrical for $5 million. But he also signed an agreement that allowed Bert Firestone, who owned 35%, to make the management decisions regarding the horse.

Going into Saturday's Breeders' Cup, Paulson wanted Day to wear his silks and Firestone wanted Day to wear his. Firestone had the management contract, Paulson the majority ownership.

The case went before the stewards at Hollywood Park, who ruled in favor of Firestone. The California Horse Racing Board then reversed the decision and ruled in favor of Paulson. And that decision stood.

"There hasn't been this much interest in silks since Marilyn Monroe stepped on the air duct," said Pete Pedersen, senior steward at Hollywood Park.

The feud finally got settled late Friday night when Paulson's people and Firestone's people (that's Hollywood talk) finalized an agreement that would give Paulson complete control, but only after the race.

The final details were worked out just as a Breeders' Cup black-tie dinner was concluding. ("I paid $1,600 for two dinner tickets and I get there for the finish," said Dick Craigo, an attorney for Paulson.)

And, sure enough, before Theatrical could even be brought to the winners' circle, it was announced to the 57,734 at Hollywood Park that Paulson had bought out Firestone. Missing from all this, and he's probably glad he is, is Michael Smurfit of Dublin, Ireland, who owns the remaining 15% of Theatrical.

The track, rightly confused by this cornucopia of colors, left the jockey diagram blank in the program.

"It's been a battle but now that the horse has run, I got a hell of a bargain," said Paulson after the race. "We put down the boxing gloves last night. I'm glad we got that settled."

Interestingly, but apparently not intentionally, the battle between Paulson and Firestone this week has brought considerable attention to Theatrical, enhancing his chances of being voted horse of the year.

But those who saw Theatrical run on Saturday will remember the horse, not the owners. He broke cleanly and waited in fourth on the rail until the mile pole. By the 1-mile mark he had a 1 1/2-length lead with Trempolino, winner of the Arc de Triomphe, closing fast. Trempolino took the lead briefly entering the stretch, but Theatrical battled gamely and won the 1 1/2-mile race by a half length.

Pat Eddery, Trempolino's rider, grudgingly gave Theatrical the credit for the win. "Theatrical is a top class Grade I horse. He always seems to come through. . . . But he had to come from from a barn across the street. We had to come from across the ocean."

Even the British press, seemingly wrapped in a Union Jack, were asking Paulson if he thought the Arc de Triomphe had taken the edge off Trempolino.

Paulson just smiled and avoided an answer.

Andre Fabre, Trempolino's trainer, was a little more gracious. "He (Trempolino) couldn't beat the winner. He didn't get off well, but I don't think his chances were compromised at the beginning. . . . The winner's a good horse."

Theatrical's next test will probably come in the stud shed.

Paulson wouldn't elaborate on whether or not Theatrical will run again this year. However, after all the interviews were over, he huddled with trainer Bill Mott.

It was Mott's opinion that nothing could be gained as far as securing horse of the year honors by running him again. One thing in Theatrical's favor, however, is that no horse has ever won horse of the year winning less than 60% of their races. Ferdinand, winner of the Classic and Theatrical's chief competition, won 4 of 10 races this year. Theatrical has won seven of his nine races.

"He has a tremendous amount of heart," Mott said of Theatrical. "He has been second to a lot of great horses, but his maturity level has allowed him to develop into a great horse this year."

There is no doubt about that.

But Theatrical will most assuredly be remembered as the only horse ever to run at Hollywood Park that had his jockey spend more time contemplating the color of his attire than the star who presents him with trophy.

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