Although On the Line has won the first two races in the Strub series, he's likely to be no better than the fourth betting choice in a field of six today at Santa Anita in the $500,000 Charles H. Strub Stakes.
The reason for On the Line's lack of popularity in the series finale is simple: The farther he runs, the less likely he is to win.
In the Strub series opener, the seven-furlong Malibu, On the Line won by 7 1/2 lengths. In the 1 1/8-mile San Fernando three weeks later, On the Line won again, but this time by only a half-length over Candi's Gold.
Trainers of Temperate Sil, Candi's Gold and Masterful Advocate, who were unable to beat On the Line in the Malibu and/or the San Fernando, feel that the added distance of the 1-mile Strub should improve their chances today. On the Line has never won at 1 miles, a distance that is a perfect fit for Alysheba, the Kentucky Derby winner and the Strub favorite.
When On the Line won the San Fernando on Jan. 17, his trainer, Wayne Lukas, indicated that the 4-year-old colt would come back in the Strub only because he has a chance to become the sixth horse to sweep the series.
On Saturday, however, Jeff Lukas indicated that On the Line would have run in the Strub, anyway. Jeff was deputizing for his father, who picked up his third straight Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer Friday night in New York and then stopped to check on his horses at Oaklawn Park en route back to California.
"That $500,000 purse is enough to try to win with this colt one more time," Jeff Lukas said. "He's never been better than he is now, and he's the only real true speed in the race."
On the Line finished far back in the 1-mile Kentucky Derby last year after his owner, Gene Klein, wanted to run. On the Line won the one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs the week before.
The last time On the Line ran 1 miles was a fourth-place finish in the Swaps at Hollywood Park last July. Temperate Sil and Candi's Gold, who ran 1-2, finished far ahead of him that day.
Chris McCarron expects a big performance today from Alysheba, even though he hasn't run in 11 weeks and will be packing top weight of 126 pounds. Alysheba missed a prep race when trainer Jack Van Berg scratched him from the San Fernando because of a sloppy track.
"He's been working very well in the mornings," McCarron said. McCarron was aboard when Alysheba worked 1 miles in 2:03--faster than his Kentucky Derby time--at Hollywood Park on Jan. 27.
"He worked in company with two horses that day," McCarron said. "One horse went with him for five furlongs, then another horse picked him up for the last five furlongs. Jack doesn't have a horse in his barn who can go with him for a mile and a quarter."
Horse Racing Notes
Alysheba is 0 for 3 at Santa Anita, his best finish being a second in the San Felipe Handicap last year. . . . Four horses--Buckpasser in 1967, Damascus in 1968, Bicker in 1973 and Doonesbury in 1981--won the first two races in the Strub series, but didn't sweep. Buckpasser didn't run in the Strub. . . . Charlie Whittingham, who trains Temperate Sil, has lost photo finishes in the Strub three of the last four years, with Desert Wine beating Load the Cannons in 1984, Precisionist edging out Greinton in 1985, Ferdinand losing by a nose to Snow Chief last year. . . . Chris McCarron, who has far fewer mounts than the leading riders because of his follow-up leg surgery this season, has won with 9 of 77 mounts.