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LOS ALAMITOS : To Win, You Have to Have Hart

December 25, 1991|STEVE ANDERSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although it lasted only one evening, Kenny Hart made the most of his Los Alamitos homecoming Saturday night.

Hart, 44, won five consecutive riding titles at Los Alamitos from 1979 through 1983 and rode at the Cypress track throughout the 1980s. In the last few years, however, Hart has spent his summers in Ruidoso, N.M., and the off-season at his home in Post, Tex., southeast of Lubbock.

Saturday's return--he rode Special Leader, an 18-1 shot, to victory in the Champion of Champions--was his first California mount in a little more than two years.

"It's always a thrill to come here," he said. "This is where I've done most of my riding."

Hart has won most of California's biggest quarter horse races at least once and has led the nation's quarter horse riders in earnings several times. Only Hart and retired jockey Robert Adair have won more than 100 stakes at Los Alamitos. This year, Hart's Ruidoso season was highlighted by a three-length victory aboard Special Leader in the All-American Gold Cup.

Special Leader, a 4-year-old colt, came to California with trainer Mike Robbins shortly after the Gold Cup, but Hart returned to Post. Special Leader finished third in the Los Alamitos Championship, fifth in the Breeders Championship Classic and second, behind Refrigerator, in the Champion of Champions trials.

When Robbins qualified both Reckless Dash and Special Leader for the Champion of Champions, jockey Bruce Pilkenton chose Reckless Dash. Hart was given the mount on Special Leader.

Of the two horses, both owned by Joe Kirk Fulton of Lubbock, Reckless Dash overshadowed Special Leader. The two grew up together under the care of Robbins. They began their careers at Los Alamitos in 1989--Hart rode Special Leader in his first start on July 5 of that year, a fifth-place finish in a maiden race. Throughout the next two years, as the two raced in New Mexico and Oklahoma, Reckless Dash was better. He won more races and more money. But that changed in the last few months.

When Special Leader won the All-American Gold Cup, Reckless Dash finished seventh. On Saturday, Reckless Dash finished fifth in the Champion of Champions. Consequently, Special Leader is the leading contender for champion aged stallion and has a chance to be voted world champion by the American Quarter Horse Assn.'s Racing Committee in January.

Other contenders for world champion include Corona Chick, the 2-year-old filly who has an eight-race winning streak, and Apprehend, who finished ninth in the Champion of Champions but earlier in the year won three major stakes.

"I think we have aged stallion, but world champion is up for grabs," said Robbins, who also won the Champion of Champions in 1982 with Sgt Pepper Feature and in 1984 with Dashs Dream. "Apprehend has more Grade I (victories), but this race holds a lot of prestige."

Both Special Leader and Reckless Dash will be shipped back to Texas on Friday and will stand at stud in the spring. Even so, Robbins and Fulton both mentioned bringing Special Leader back next year to defend his Champion of Champions title.

"If the horse pulls up well, we'll bring him back next fall," said Fulton. "I'm looking forward to putting them in the stud, but I'm sad to see them leave the race track. It could be a while before I have another like them."

Hart has also returned to Texas. He will leave Post early next month for Sunland Park near El Paso, to work with trainer Jack Brooks on his 1992 2-year-olds. The first major futurity of the year, the West Texas Futurity on March 21, has trials on March 4.

"I miss California," Hart said. "I miss the people and the racing and I sure miss the money. I like Texas and I like my home. I want to keep riding for a couple of years. I just don't want to bump heads with the younger riders."

Worth $298,356, this Saturday's Golden State Futurity is the richest race of the 1991-92 Los Alamitos quarter horse season and the last chance for Dash Ta Fame and Holland Ease, the top qualifiers for the 400-yard race, to impress the voters for year-end honors.

The 1991 2-year-old champions have basically been determined in two of the three categories. Corona Chick is expected to be voted champion 2-year-old filly and 2-year-old of the year. Ed Grimley, the leading 2-year-old gelding, won the Bay Meadows Futurity and was second in two other major futurities earlier in the year, including the All-American Futurity.

Both horses have been sent to the sidelines for the year. Corona Chick will start in the Jan. 9 La Primera Del Ano Derby trials, and Ed Grimley is scheduled to return by summer.

The colt division, however, is still unsettled. Magic Dozen and Steppin For The Moon each won two major futurities early in the year, but didn't run after Labor Day. All-American Futurity winner Royal Quick Dash did not fare well in any other race this year.

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