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Hollywood Futurity : That Day in Munich Will Always Be a Day of Infamy to Jim Day

December 20, 1987|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

Jim Day doesn't mind flying, as long as it's in an airplane. But hold the helicopters. Day can't even stand the sound of those things.

Whenever he hears the sound of a helicopter, it reminds him of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where Arab terrorists invaded the athletes' village, killing 11 members of the Israeli team.

Training horses has its valleys--Day thought he had the winner in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Aqueduct in 1985 before his horse, Imperial Choice, broke a leg at the top of the stretch--but even depression caused by disappointments like that can't compare with the Munich Olympics.

Day was there, really there. As a member of Canada's equestrian team, he was living in the dormitory next to the building where the guerrillas took the Israelis hostage.

Today at Hollywood Park, Day is hoping for no broken legs. He will saddle Regal Classic, the champion 2-year-old this year in Canada and runner-up to Afleet in that country's horse-of-the-year voting, in the $1- million Hollywood Futurity.

But back to the helicopters.

"Their sound got to be a drone," Day said. "They were hovering over the buildings throughout the entire siege. It's the one thing from that entire day that I'll never be able to forget."

The Canadian horsemen had left their condo-style dormitory for the stables very early in the morning, before the terrorist attack.

"We came back to the compound not knowing," Day said. "But by then, they already had control of the building, and the negotiations were going on. An Arab jumped out a door of the building with a machine gun and sent our bus away.

"The whole thing never seemed real. You couldn't believe it was actually happening.

"We wound up back in our building, looking at the whole thing through the windows. It didn't really sink in what was happening until you saw the Israelis being led out of their building in Indian file, being guarded with the machine guns."

Day, 41, competed in three Olympics. He was a member of the Canadian team that won the equestrian gold medal at Mexico City in 1968, he was fourth in the individual competition at Munich, and at Montreal in 1976, he became the first horseman to compete in both show-jumping and the three-day event.

After the 1976 Olympics, Day didn't envision a career as a horse trainer.

"Naturally, it was a career that might offer more than just being a show rider," he said. "But long-term, I couldn't see myself doing it. Managing a farm was more like something that I had in mind."

Day obtained his first trainer's license in 1977, however, and for the last five years has been handling the horses of Ernie Samuel, the Canadian breeder who furnished the horses that Day rode in the Olympics.

Three of Samuel's runners--Dauphin Fabuleux, Imperial Choice and Ruling Angel--were voted horse of the year in Canada under Day in consecutive years, starting in 1984.

"I thought we were going to win the Classic with Imperial Choice," Day said. "So did (jockey Laffit) Pincay."

Imperial Choice, his leg now reinforced with surgical screws, is back in training, and Day hopes to run him next year as a 6-year-old.

Day also has plans next year for Regal Classic as a 3-year-old.

Before last month's Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park, Day labeled the colt an unknown quantity. Regal Classic had four firsts and two seconds in six starts, all four of the victories in stakes, but he had run exclusively in Canada. Day was also getting unsolicited opinions that the colt had more of a future on grass than dirt.

In the Breeders' Cup, on dirt, Regal Classic convinced Day that he could handle that surface, and be competitive against America's best as well.

Caught in traffic on the far turn, Regal Classic still finished second, 1 3/4 lengths behind Success Express, who will be favored in today's Futurity and will be voted North America's best 2-year-old if he wins.

After today's race, Regal Classic will get a three-month rest at Samuel's 160-acre farm in Ocala, Fla. Then Day will point the colt toward next year's Kentucky Derby. Tentative prep races are the Budweiser-Tampa Bay Futurity and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Regal Classic had a cough and a temperature after a half-mile workout in the rain at Hollywood Park Wednesday.

"He's quit coughing," Day said. "His temperature got to be 102, which is only about one degree above what it normally is, and that's gone down now. We've tested his blood, and he seems to be all right."

Another Day--Pat--will be riding Regal Classic for the first time, replacing the horse's regular rider, Dave Penna.

The Days are not related. "It's an advantage to have a rider who knows about the competition," Jim Day said. "Penna was going cold-turkey into the Breeders' Cup when he rode this horse last time. Pat's a world-class rider, and when you've got the chance to get somebody like him, you've got to take it."

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