Nelson Bunker Hunt, once one of the richest men in the country but now a financially plagued Texan trying to bail out the family's oil business, recently auctioned off nearly 600 of his horses for $46.9 million.
In the horse business since 1955, Hunt was too emotionally scarred to attend the auction, and last week he put on hold the plan to sell the rest of his stock privately.
Of the 100 or so horses that remain, the one Hunt might enjoy the most is Lively One, a 3-year-old colt who won the $82,400 Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita by one length Wednesday, fortifying trainer Charlie Whittingham's thought that this is his best Kentucky Derby candidate this year.
"He looks the part and he's got the pedigree," Whittingham said after Lively One overtook Stalwars in the stretch. Stalwars, who ran an impressive race in breaking his maiden in the third start of his life on Jan. 14, finished second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Havanaffair, who led for three-quarters of a mile.
Despite being blocked on the turn, Lively One found an extra gear and won his third race in five starts, paying $4.60, $2.80 and $2.20 as the favorite in a crowd of 18,690. Stalwars, the second choice, paid $3.40 and $2.80, and Havanaffair returned $3. Lively One's time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:43 2/5, which Whittingham thought was acceptable over a fast but dull track.
Whittingham and Bill Shoemaker, Lively One's jockey, made favorable comparisons between this colt and Ferdinand, who gave them a victory in the Kentucky Derby in 1986.
"He's a quicker horse than Ferdinand was at the same stage in their careers," Whittingham said. "He's a quicker horse than Ferdinand was at the same stage. He's not as big, he's more compact. He's so perfectly made that he's not as little as he looks. He's so agile."
Lively One is the result of Hunt's breeding Halo to Swinging Lizzie, a The Axe II mare. Halo was the sire of Sunny's Halo, winner of the 1983 Derby.
"He's more precocious than Ferdinand was at this stage," Shoemaker said of Lively One. "He has more speed and will really go when you ask him."
Gran Musico, who finished last in the nine-horse field, was directly in front of Lively One on the turn. Shoemaker took the inside route, then he and his mount comfortably ran down Stalwars and Gary Stevens with less than a sixteenth of a mile to go.
"My horse put in a big run when we got loose," Shoemaker said. "Gary had opened up about four or five lengths on us with his horse, and I wasn't sure we could catch them. My horse impressed me with the way he ran."
Two years ago, Ferdinand won the Santa Catalina for his first stakes victory. After that, Whittingham shortened him up to a mile, with Ferdinand finishing second in the San Rafael, but Wednesday the trainer indicated that he won't do the same thing with Lively One.
"You had to like this horse's race," Whittingham said. "He was stopped, and he still came on. That's one thing about this horse, he can make a couple of runs if he has to."
What Lively One didn't do was change lead feet in the stretch, which would have shifted his weight from the left side to the right.
"Look," Shoemaker said, pointing to a television monitor showing a rerun, "he switches (feet) right at the wire, when it's too late to do any good. But he's a mean son of a gun."
Gary Jones, who earlier said that Stalwars was the most promising 3-year-old he has ever trained, was disappointed that the Stalwart colt couldn't protect the lead. In fifth place after a half-mile, Stalwars moved boldly on the outside to take the lead at the top of the stretch.
"I thought Gary (Stevens) should have shook up my horse once he got the lead," Jones said.
Horse Racing Notes