While Gary Jones contemplates the next moves for his three stakes-winning fillies, trainer Mel Stute may go back to square one with his erratic filly, Very Subtle.
Jones didn't have a care in the world Saturday at Santa Anita, where his two 4-year-olds battled to the wire in the $161,700 La Canada Stakes, with Hollywood Glitter outgaming By Land by Sea by a neck.
Very Subtle, whose only win around two turns came on a disqualification, failed for the fourth time in her last five starts as a favorite, finishing third, 5 1/2 lengths behind By Land by Sea, before a crowd of 34,132.
Saddling a horse before the race that followed the La Canada, Stute considered Very Subtle's future.
"I'm going to have to talk it over with (owner) Ben (Rochelle), but I'm thinking about sprinting her again," Stute said.
Very Subtle, who went off at 2-1, won the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park, handing favored Groovy his only loss of the year, and she won going seven furlongs after that, but she was second to By Land by Sea at 1 1/16 miles in the El Encino, two weeks ago.
Although she runs on an anti-bleeding medication, Very Subtle came back after the La Canada bleeding from the right nostril. That could be a sign of a horse experiencing stress because she's being asked to outperform her capabilities.
Bill Shoemaker, who rode Very Subtle Saturday, would return her to sprints. "That's what Mel should do, shorten her up," Shoemaker said. "Sprinting is what she does best."
Shoemaker has won with Very Subtle before, but he got the mount Saturday because Pat Valenzuela was unable to ride her for the second straight race. Valenzuela, who says he has the flu, missed his seventh day of riding at the meet. Antonio Castanon replaced Valenzuela in the El Encino.
Hollywood Glitter, a California-bred daughter of The Irish Lord and Fluffity Uppity, was a 2-year-old when Joanne Batchelor, the daughter of trainer George Hartstone, bought her privately for $30,000 in 1986.
"She was for sale for a long time, and a lot of people didn't buy her," Batchelor said.
Hollywood Glitter had run in only two stakes before Saturday, coming home third at Del Mar last September and finishing fourth--then being disqualified to sixth for interference--in the Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 24, her last start.
By Land by Sea, to Jones' surprise, made the lead in the 1-mile race, with Hollywood Glitter in close pursuit and Very Subtle, the expected pace-setter, lagging by two or three lengths.
On the turn, Hollywood Glitter began to move on her stablemate, but By Land by Sea resisted stubbornly. The pair battled through the stretch, with Hollywood Glitter moving ahead just a few strides before the wire.
Hollywood Glitter, timed in 1:49 1/5, which was 1 3/5-seconds off the stakes record, earned $94,200--about $20,000 more than her career total--and as the sixth betting choice paid $20.80, $8 and $4.60. By Land by Sea paid $5.40 and $3.60, and Very Subtle returned $3.
Laffit Pincay rode Hollywood Glitter for the first time.
"I thought I'd be laying third behind By Land by Sea and Very Subtle, but I found myself in a position where I could have gone to the lead at any time," Pincay said. "She got to the lead and started pulling up. She was trying to wait on the other horse. I knew she had a good chance, because she worked real good the other day."
Stute is questioning whether his change in training regimen for Very Subtle was wise.
"Maybe I dulled her too much by trying to stretch her out," the trainer said. "They weren't running that fast early: :46 1/5 for a half-mile and 1:10 1/5 for six furlongs. My filly can run in 8 (1:08)."
There was nothing wrong with the way Very Subtle left the gate.
"She just didn't leave running," Shoemaker said. "After that, there was no use pushing her, I was just going to make one run with her. She made just a little move on the turn, but that was it. She finished third on class."
Jones indicated that he would start Mausie, winner of the Santa Maria Handicap, in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap on Feb. 21.
Although it would seem that running 1-2 in a major stake would be a perfect result for a trainer, Jones still didn't relish one of his later Saturday chores.
"The owners of By Land by Sea weren't here," Jones said. "I'll have to call them. It's something I hate to have to do."
Horse Racing Notes
Gary Jones will run Stalwars Wednesday in the $75,000 Santa Catalina Stakes for 3-year-olds. A stomach problem prevented Stalwars from running the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows a couple of weeks ago. . . . Pat Day, in New York to pick up his Eclipse Award Friday night, returned to Gulfstream Park Saturday and won the Orchid Handicap with Beauty Cream. Anka Germania, the favorite, finished 10th. . . . Sylvan Express, trained by John Fulton and ridden by Russell Baze, won Saturday's Albany Handicap at Golden Gate Fields. . . . Pat Valenzuela told the stewards that he also won't be able to ride today.