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HOLLYWOOD PARK : What Stevens Doesn't Know Helps Longshot Latin American


Gary Stevens, riding Latin American for the first time, wasn't aware that the 5-year-old horse had run only seven days before Saturday's $400,000 Californian at Hollywood Park.

"I didn't know I was riding this horse until the overnight (program sheet) came out Thursday," Stevens said. "When I looked (at Latin American's) past performances, I didn't even notice the dates. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't. If I had realized he had run just a week ago, I might have babied him and ridden a different race."

Latin American came from next to last, more than 10 lengths off the pace, to win by five lengths in a record-equaling time, adding another twist to this year's older-horse division.

Before 33,009, drawn as much by a sparring exhibition by junior welterweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez as the horses for the Californian, Latin American paid $37.80 as the second-longest price in the seven-horse field. The first two races in the American Championship Racing Series, at Gulfstream Park, produced longshot winners Pistols And Roses ($91.40) and Devil His Due ($25.80), and Sir Beaufort won this year's Santa Anita Handicap at 11-1.

It was that Big 'Cap victory that resulted in Sir Beaufort going off as the 6-5 favorite Saturday, but trainer Charlie Whittingham, hoping to win his 12th Californian, had to settle for fourth place.

The well-traveled Latin American, running his seventh race of the year and fourth in less than six weeks, added another track to an itinerary that has included Northern California, Arizona, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

"He seems to thrive on work," Stevens said. "If I were (trainer Bob Marshall), I'd be looking for a race for him next week, too."

Marshall, a 48-year-old optometrist-turned-trainer who took out his first horse license in 1986, said it was appropriate that Latin American would give him his first major victory on a day when Hollywood Park honored a Latino ring champion.

Marshall, who owns Latin American in a partnership that includes Warren (Spud) Williamson, Mike Jarvis and Mike Glickman, claimed Latin American from trainer Gary Jones before the 6-year-old Riverman-Clever Dancer horse won a 1 1/8-mile grass race at Hollywood last June. Since then, running on grass as well as dirt, Latin American has won four of 12 starts and Saturday's main-track victory was worth $220,000, increasing his earnings to $459,815 for the current owners.

Latin American hit the road in March, winning the New Orleans Handicap on dirt and the Edmond Handicap on grass at Remington Park. Last Saturday, on grass at in the Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap at Remington, Latin American finished third on a damp course.

"We ran in that last race because we had trouble making plane connections home," Marshall said. "I wouldn't have been able to get him fit for the Californian without putting that extra race into him."

Five hours after the Remington race, Latin American was put on a van for a five-hour ride to Arkansas, where he stayed overnight before a chartered plane got him to the Ontario airport in about eight hours. Then it was another 90-minute van ride before the horse was back in his stall at Hollywood Park.

"I understand that he slept the whole trip," Marshall said. "But when he got back home, I noticed that he had put on 50 pounds. He wasn't the lean running machine that had won the race in New Orleans. So I jogged him instead of walking him the first day back, and then put some 1 3/4- to two-mile licks into him the rest of the week. I think he was only about 10 pounds overweight going into the race."

Carrying 116 pounds, four less than the top-weighted Sir Beaufort, Latin American was timed in 1:46 4/5, matching the track-record time that Sabona set in winning the Californian in 1989. Spectacular Bid won 1980's race in 1:45 4/5, but that was before the Hollywood oval was reconfigured from a mile to 1 1/8 miles in 1984.

While Memo, Portoferraio, Missionary Ridge and Sir Beaufort set the pace of 23, 46 and 1:09 2/5, Stevens and Latin American were in sixth place, ahead of only Reign Road.

"Bob had told me to let my horse creep up from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole," Stevens said. On his own initiative, Latin American began his surge on the far turn and at the top of the stretch was in the middle of the track with only three rivals ahead of him.

Kent Desormeaux, astride Missionary Ridge, still felt like a winner then. "When I passed Memo, I started to smile because I thought I had them," Desormeaux said. "But then here comes Gary with his horse. My horse was running his tail off, but Gary's horse just swallowed us up."

Stevens didn't have to use his whip as Latin American went to the front near the eighth pole. "I think what's helped him with his travels is that he's not a big horse. He's steady and compact, and when he runs he doesn't waste any effort," Stevens said. "He wasn't tired after the race. He wouldn't have blown out a match."

Horse Racing Notes

Missionary Ridge and Pistols And Roses, with 15 points apiece, share first place in the American Championship Racing Series standings, which determine $1.2 million in bonuses. They are followed by Devil His Due with 11 points and Latin American with 10. The next stop for the nine-race series is the Pimlico Special on May 15. . . . Devil His Due scored a three-length victory in Aqueduct's $100,000-added Excelsior Handicap. . . . Stalwars won the $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap by a neck at Sportsman's Park. . . . Cherokee Run won the Derby Trial by three lengths on opening day at Churchill Downs.

Gary Stevens also rode Icy Warning, making her California debut, to a 2 3/4-length victory in the $56,200 Variety Queen Stakes.

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