Brown Bess hasn't run since she romped to an easy victory in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita four months ago, but if she returns to that form Sunday, the other six horses in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap will be wasting their time.
Rick Mettee, who trains Annoconnor, another Santa Ana entrant, is hoping that the 1 1/8-mile grass race will be a suitable send-off to Kentucky for the 6-year-old mare, who will be bred to Mr. Prospector in April.
"Brown Bess is the only negative," Mettee said. "If she runs like she did in the Yellow Ribbon, we'll all be running for second place."
With Cowboy Jack Kaenel not even using the whip, Brown Bess won the 1 1/4-mile Yellow Ribbon in 1:57 3/5, missing by a fifth of a second the world record that Double Discount set while winning the Burke Handicap at Santa Anita in 1977.
Since Santa Anita's grass course was rebuilt last year, it has been open season on track records, but Brown Bess' near-miss under those conditions was still a convincing performance, and she was voted an Eclipse Award for best filly or mare on turf. She was the first Northern California-based horse ever to win an Eclipse.
Brown Bess, now an 8-year-old, went over the $1-million mark in purses with her Yellow Ribbon victory. Among California-breds, Fran's Valentine is the only female to earn more, and her $1.3-million total will be in jeopardy if Brown Bess can keep rolling.
Suzanne Pashayan of Fresno, who bred and owns Brown Bess, said little thought was given to retiring the mare and breeding her. It wouldn't have made much sense to do that, because Pashayan, who has been involved in California breeding for about 35 years, would have been a stable without a runner if Brown Bess had been retired. Pashayan's only other horse in training, an unraced 4-year-old filly named Wolf Whistle, suffered a serious leg injury, and it's likely that she'll be bred.
"Brown Bess' attitude toward running has always been positive," Pashayan said. "As long as she has that attitude, we'll keep her on the track."
Brown Bess won five of nine starts last year, but she was beaten only once after March, and the four losses either came against colts or were on dirt. Against her own sex on grass, the smallish Petrone-Chickadee mare has won seven consecutive races, dating to a second-place finish behind Davie's Lamb at Bay Meadows in September of 1988.
Asked which of Brown Bess' 1989 races gave her the most satisfaction, Pashayan preferred to name four. Two of them were losses, but winning efforts in the owner's eyes.
"The Yellow Ribbon, of course, because she came so close to the world record," Pashayan said. "Then there was the Ramona (Handicap at Del Mar), because it seemed like the whole field ganged up on her at the end, but she wouldn't let any of them get by.
"And then there were two races at Golden Gate (Fields) where she tried to beat colts. One was (a second-place finish in the mud), where she was trapped on the rail with no place to go. Afterwards, you asked yourself, 'How did she get up in there?' but she did and she still gave it her best. The other one was on the grass (in the Golden Gate Handicap). Tommy Chapman was riding her for the first time, and even though (Frankly Perfect and Pleasant Variety) beat her, she didn't give up until the very end."
Fieldy, the well-traveled Irish-bred who ran second to Maria Jesse in last year's Santa Ana, is running again Sunday.
Here's the field, in post-position order, with jockeys and weights: Annoconnor, Corey Black, 119 pounds; Fieldy, Kent Desormeaux, 118; Royal Touch, Russell Baze, 121; Brown Bess, Jack Kaenel, 123; Sherarda, Pat Valenzuela, 115; Invited Guest, Chris McCarron, 117, and Mamma Rosita, Eddie Delahoussaye, 115.
Prized, the versatile 4-year-old colt who has beaten the best on both dirt and grass, is being syndicated by his owners at a book value of $6 million.
Barbara LaCroix, who bred Prized and owned half of the horse, will retain a 25% interest. Her partners, five members of the Clover Racing Stables syndicate, will keep a 25% interest, with the rest--20 shares--being sold at $150,000 a share.
The new ownership will share in Prized's purses the rest of the year as well as have an interest in his breeding rights.
"Barbara has bought a farm in Ocala (Fla.) and would like to see Prized stand there," said Barry Irwin, president of Clover. "The horse probably will be sent to stud next year, but the new group will sit down at the end of the year and decide which course we'll take."
Last year on dirt, Prized beat horse of the year Sunday Silence in the Swaps at Hollywood Park. He also won the Molson Million at Woodbine and capped the year with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park. Last Sunday at Santa Anita, Prized defeated Steinlen, the 1989 male grass champion, in the Arcadia Handicap. Prized has won seven of 12 starts and earned almost $2 million.
Horse Racing Notes