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HOLLYWOOD PARK : Workhorse Bien Bien Recovers Quickly to Win Turf Handicap


The 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Handicap usually takes so much out of horses that they are not ready for another race soon.

Not so with Bien Bien, who ran second, a nose behind Kotashaan, in the Santa Anita race on April 18.

"A couple of days after that race, he was rearing in his stall," trainer Paco Gonzalez said. "I was afraid that he might kill himself."

So Gonzalez returned the 4-year-old Manila-Stark Winter colt to the track for morning gallops, and 12 days after the San Juan, Bien Bien was back on a regular workout schedule.

"The San Juan didn't take anything out of him at all," said Sal Gonzalez Jr., the trainer's brother and Bien Bien's regular exercise rider.

Bien Bien's enthusiasm transferred to Hollywood Park on Monday, where, racing without blinkers, he won the $500,000 Hollywood Turf Handicap, running one of the fastest 1 1/4 miles in grass racing history.

Bien Bien's time of 1:57 3/5 broke Political Ambition's track record by a full second and missed the North American record--set by Double Discount at Santa Anita in 1977 and matched there by Bequest in the 1991 Santa Barbara Handicap--by a fifth of a second.

Bien Bien, in fifth place early, moved into contention with a quarter of a mile left and passed Corrupt and Best Pal at the top of the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths, giving his owners, Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan, a $300,000 payoff. Bien Bien, bought for $100,000 as a yearling, sent his earnings over the $1-million mark.

Best Pal was second, earned $100,000 and became the eighth horse to go over the $4-million mark. Best Pal, running on grass for the second time, was a neck better than Leger Cat, who was a head in front of Val Des Bois. Lomitas, the 2-1 favorite, ran fifth, beaten by more than five lengths.

Rainbow Corner, who finished last in the eight-horse field, was ridden by Julio Garcia after Kent Desormeaux was injured in a fifth-race spill. Desormeaux suffered a bruised lower back after his horse, On The Limb, tripped over Stoodthetestoftime, who broke down near the quarter pole.

Stoodthetestoftime, whose jockey, Black, was not injured, suffered a broken left foreleg and was destroyed. Desormeaux returned from the hospital in time to watch the Turf Handicap from the jockeys' room.

"I might have tried it, but it wouldn't have been the thing to do in a $500,000 race," Desormeaux said. "I'm just glad nothing's broken, not with my first Belmont and that mount with Missionary Ridge coming up."

Desormeaux is scheduled to ride Arinthod in Saturday's Belmont Stakes and also has the assignment on Missionary Ridge in the $400,000 Nassau County Handicap the same day.

Bien Bien's victory ended a dry spell for Chris McCarron, who has had a rash of second-place finishes in important races. McCarron hadn't won a stake this season at Hollywood Park and hadn't won a big race since his victory aboard Paseana in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 16.

Before Monday, Bien Bien had worn blinkers while being outrun in his last six starts, winning last December's Hollywood Turf Cup on a foul and finishing second four times, three by a nose.

And Bien Bien's blinkers?

"We put them on him because he was racing green," Gonzalez said. "He was running in and out. But in the San Juan, I think he got beat because he didn't see the other horse."

Said McCarron: "Going by the stands, he was going real relaxed," McCarron said. "And then he had a big kick at the end. Taking the blinkers off was a very smart move. He was just a little keen with the blinkers on. He had a tendency to duck around early in his career and he needed them. But he's a professional now, all business."

It was a tough weekend for Gary Jones, Best Pal's trainer, who lost Freedom Cry when she broke down during a workout Sunday and died of a heart attack on the operating table.

"That's the toughest thing you have to do in this business, call an owner with news like that," Jones said. "It was just one of those things. She took a bad step in the work."

Still, Jones could be encouraged by Best Pal's race.

"The jockey (Corey Black) rode him perfectly," Jones said. "He might have been one workout short. But I was tickled to death about how he ran, because the race didn't set up the way he needs it, with no pace at all."

Corrupt, at 31-1, set ordinary fractions of 23 3/5 and 47 4/5 before the pace quickened to 1:11 2/5 and 1:34 3/5 for the mile.

"When our horse moved at the three-eighths pole, he shot out of there," Toffan said. "Coming into the stretch, no one was going to catch him."

Bien Bien carried 119 pounds, three less than the highweight, Best Pal.

Horse Racing Notes

Eduardo Inda saddled Lomitas and D'Hallevant, the winner of a minor stake Monday, while his boss, trainer Ron McAnally, was in New York for Ibero's victory in the Metropolitan Mile. Latin American, winner of the Californian at Hollywood, missed his flight to New York because of a minor throat infection and won't run in the Nassau County Handicap on Saturday. Latin American might run in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood on Sunday. . . . Jovial, who hasn't run since winning the Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas on April 10, is scheduled to resume serious training in about a week, according to trainer Bruce Jackson.

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