On Thursday morning, Frank Whitham received a call at his farm in Leoti, Kan., from someone making an offer for Bayakoa.
"A very capable farm owner," was the way Whitham described the caller.
A little later, Jan Whitham, Frank's wife and co-owner of the 7-year-old mare, walked into the room.
"I told Jan about the call," Whitham said. "She didn't say anything. She just turned around and walked off."
Bayakoa has given the Whithams more thrills than they ever imagined they could have in racing, and now that her running career is down to three races, they aren't considering selling her. It will be sad enough, in mid-April, when they send her to some fancy, yet-to-determined stallion in Kentucky for the start of a breeding career.
Except for her attempt at an earnings record, Bayakoa would have already been retired from the track. She has won the Breeders' Cup Distaff two years in a row, with the Whithams paying a supplementary fee of $200,000 each time to get her in the race. A week from today, in San Francisco, the Argentine-bred horse will win her second consecutive Eclipse Award, emblematic of a division championship.
Bayakoa, however, is too close to Lady's Secret's record for the Whithams, trainer Ron McAnally and jockey Laffit Pincay to quit now. Lady's Secret, who was voted horse of the year in 1986, retired with slightly more than $3 million in purses, the most a filly or mare has ever earned. Bayakoa, who is at $2.7 million, could break that record by winning her next three races, starting with today's $150,000 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita.
The other races on the schedule are the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita Feb. 16 and the $350,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park April 19. Bayakoa won the Santa Maria and the Santa Margarita last year; she has won the Santa Margarita the last two years. After winning the 1989 Apple Blossom, she ran second to Gorgeous at Oaklawn last year, one of only three losses in 10 starts during 1990.
Despite skyrocketing purses, if Bayakoa breaks Lady's Secret's record, it will be a mark that could last for a long time. Female horses still don't run for as much money as males, and there is not another distaffer in training who has earned $1 million.
Record or not, Bayakoa will be retired after the Apple Blossom. "We'd like the record, but we'll be tickled to death if she just gets through these last three races sound," Frank Whitham said.
The gamble that owners take every time they send a horse to the track was brought home to the Whithams last October when Bayakoa won the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park while Go For Wand broke down 100 yards from the finish line. She was destroyed minutes later by lethal injection.
Many times, the Whithams have replayed the tape of Bayakoa's victory in the Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park in 1989, but they've rarely watched last year's race at Belmont.
"The race the year before was so much fun," Jan Whitham said. "Gulfstream was colorful, warm and flowery. We were interested in the second Breeders' Cup (rerun) only to see how our mare ran, how she recovered from stumbling coming out of the gate. But otherwise it's a race that you don't like to go back to. It's something you can't undo, but you still don't like to watch what happened."
Like McAnally, the Whithams are surprised that 128 pounds were assigned to Bayakoa for today's race. That is the highest impost of her career.
"We wouldn't have been surprised if they had given us 126 or 127 pounds," Frank Whitham said. "But we were disappointed when they gave her 128 in her first race since the Breeders' Cup. I don't mind a big spread between our horse and the others. But I don't think the way to do it is to pile all the top weight on us."
In the Santa Maria's five-horse field, Little Brianne is next in the weights at 117, with Bayakoa spotting the low weight, Formidable Lady, 16 pounds.
Horse Racing Notes
Bayakoa's record is 21 victories and eight seconds in 36 starts. Since leaving Argentina in 1987, she has won 18 of 28. . . . Lady's Secret raced 45 times, with 25 victories, nine seconds and three thirds. . . . All Along, the French filly who was voted horse of the year in 1983, also earned more than $3 million and ranks about $5,000 behind Lady's Secret. Bayakoa could pass Triptych, the No. 3 female, with a victory today.
Two of Bayakoa's losses last year came when she tried to beat males. She finished last in the Santa Anita Handicap and second in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. . . . Quiet American, who beat Bayakoa at Del Mar, is one of six horses entered in Sunday's $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. The others are Flying Continental, Septieme Ciel, Farma Way, Variety Road and Stylish Stud. Flying Continental, who will be ridden by Corey Black, will carry 122 pounds, two more than Quiet American, who will have Chris McCarron aboard.
McCarron won three races Friday to move ahead of Gary Stevens in the Santa Anita standings. McCarron has 35 victories, one more than Stevens. One of McCarron's victories was aboard Anshan, who beat Exclusive Partner by 2 1/4 lengths in the Pinjara Handicap. Anshan ran third in the Hollywood Derby and was third in an allowance race at Santa Anita in his previous American starts. . . . Trainer Bob Baffert said Hot Society was destroyed after suffering a broken ankle during training Wednesday.