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Horse Racing / Bill Christine : Hawkster Wins the Triple Crown of Mediocrity

June 15, 1989|Bill Christine

Hawkster's fifth-place finishes in all three Triple Crown races--the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes--could earn the 3-year-old colt a place in the language.

Horses win all three of the races, as evidenced by 11 Triple Crown champions, and they have even been known to finish second three times. Alydar, for instance, was second to Affirmed three times in 1978.

But finishing fifth three times in the Triple Crown series was unprecedented. For that achievement, Hawkster could be forever synonymous with the word fifth.

The musical composition, for instance, could become Beethoven's Hawkster Symphony.

Maybe success in racing came too easily--and too quickly--for Gene Klein, who announced last week that he will sell all his horses this November.

The term "overnight success" is overused, whether the area is show business or horse racing, but with Klein it is apropos. Sure, he started out in 1982 by buying horses at the top of the line, but many new investors in the sport--Allen Paulson, for example--have come to the game with deep pockets and not enjoyed the immediate wide-scale winning that Klein did.

In the last couple of years, however, Klein became less and less visible at the tracks where his horses ran. Frequently he would go to Las Vegas, where the casinos might be carrying telecasts of more than one race involving his horses.

On other occasions, Klein would attend the off-track betting at Del Mar, near his home, to see his horses run in stakes at Santa Anita or Hollywood Park.

The thrill for most owners is to soak in whatever success they have at the track. There are few P. K. Wrigleys in racing. The late chewing-gum magnate followed his Chicago Cubs, but usually on television. He was an unknown at the ballpark that carried his name.

One day at Pimlico, Shelly Meredith, the owner of Hawkster, talked about the money it was costing him to run a modest 3-year-old in the Triple Crown races. Hawkster had not yet run in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

"Even if you finish in the money at the Kentucky Derby, it's hard to break even," Meredith said. "But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. This is why you get into racing, to be able to run a horse in these races."

That thrill came and went for Klein. He was all thrilled out, having won more big races in less than a decade than most owners win in a lifetime.

Sen. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno) said Wednesday that the racing-medication bill approved by the state Assembly this week would be heard by a Senate committee within three weeks, but he declined to predict whether the measure would become law.

Maddy said that he promised support to Assemblyman Dick Floyd (D-Hawthorne), who introduced the bill, but Maddy has reservations about some aspects of the bill.

"We've still got a long way to go, but at least we've scared the hell out of people in the industry," Floyd said. "Right now, the sport's in a state of utter confusion."

The bill severely restricts medication of horses before they run in California and would push the state's rules in the direction of New York's, which prohibit all race-day medication.

"The California Horse Racing Board has not done enough in the way of medication," Maddy said.

"This bill is a reaction to the recent crisis that involved allegations against trainers suspected of giving horses cocaine. The racing board obviously needs more strength and direction."

Maddy is not necessarily opposed to the use of phenylbutazone and furosemides, drugs that are legal in California and most racing states. Phenylbutazone is a painkiller used on sore horses and furosemides are given to horses that hemorrhage through the nostrils because of stress while running.

"I feel that the use of 'bute' and Lasix (an anti-bleeder drug) are necessary, but I'm not sure what the controls should be," Maddy said. "I'd like to know more about Lasix being able to mask drugs like cocaine, for example. The use of Lasix for this purpose is disturbing if it's true."

Arthur Hancock III holds no grudge against Ogden Phipps, who was a member of the committee that turned over management of the Hancock farm to Arthur's younger brother, Seth, when their father, Bull, died in 1972.

Phipps' Easy Goer beat Arthur Hancock's Sunday Silence last Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, preventing Hancock's colt from sweeping the Triple Crown.

"This is life," Hancock said. "Mr. Phipps has had a lot of loyalty to the sport and my family's breeding farm for many years. He deserves to win a race like the Belmont. The fact that his horse beat my horse takes some of the sting out of it for me."

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