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HORSE RACING / BILL CHRISTINE : Malibu Winner Diazo Favored in San Fernando

January 15, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE

Trainer Mel Stute can speak from experience about how tough it is to sweep the three-race Strub series at Santa Anita.

Stute went into the 1986-87 series with Snow Chief, the Preakness winner and champion 3-year-old colt of 1986, but he was unable to win the first two legs, finishing second behind Ferdinand in the Malibu Stakes and getting outrun by Variety Road and Broad Brush in the San Fernando.

"Those first two races might have been too short for my horse, but then he won the big one," Stute said.

In the 1 1/4-mile Strub, Snow Chief beat Ferdinand by a neck for the last major victory of his career, with Broad Brush finishing third.

Those were the days. The Strub series brought together archrivals Ferdinand and Snow Chief, respective winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and when Broad Brush shipped out to California from Maryland, Santa Anita got the horse who had finished third in both of those races, too.

This year's Strub series is flimsy by comparison. From a thin crop of 3-year-olds--Prairie Bayou, who was destroyed after being injured in the Belmont Stakes, probably will be voted division champion--the seven-furlong Malibu on Dec. 26 had only one starter who ran in a Triple Crown race, and Sunday's field for the 1 1/8-mile San Fernando is not any deeper. Diazo, fifth in the Kentucky Derby and winner by a half-length in the Malibu, will be favored, and other than River Special, a leading 2-year-old in 1992, the other 10 starters are belatedly trying to build their reputations.

Stute says that his Bat Eclat's chances are as good as anybody's. "I thought he ran a big race in the Malibu," Stute said. "He closed a lot of ground, this race is longer, and I think he's capable of doing a lot better."

Eight lengths behind and in last place after a half-mile in the Malibu, Bat Eclat finished fourth, beaten by less than four lengths. The 3-year-old gelding, a California-bred like Snow Chief, has taken a left turn under Stute, returning to dirt for the Strub series after a campaign last year that was mostly on grass.

Bred and owned by Robert and Barbara Walter, Bat Eclat was sent to Stute last fall to run on grass in the California Cup Mile. But because of a technicality--he had been scratched by a veterinarian from a race at Bay Meadows the week before--he was not permitted to compete.

Two weeks after the Cal Cup, Stute ran Bat Eclat for an $80,000 claiming price at a mile on grass, and he won with a closing rush, paying $67.40. His time of 1:34 was the same as Megan's Interco's winning time in the Cal Cup.

Sticking to the turf, Bat Eclat won two allowance races before running in the Malibu, which was his first dirt assignment since last winter at Golden Gate Fields, where Noble Hay II did the training.

"We're excited about his chances and we'll be down for the race," Barbara Walter said by phone Thursday. The Walters own Vine Hill Ranch, a 550-acre spread 60 miles north of San Francisco, where Battonier, Bat Eclat's sire, and their three other stallions stand, along with dozens of broodmares.

The Walters bought Battonier, winner of the 1978 Illinois Derby, for $60,000 from a Preston Madden dispersal, and from his first crop in California they got Charmonnier, who was 28-1 when he beat Best Pal, at 2-5, in the 1991 Cal Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Like Bat Eclat, Charmonnier is a gelding. Barbara Walter said that her husband, despite being a prominent breeder, still gelds many of their horses because he believes that there is an oversupply of stallions in California.

"You've got to have a lot going for you to win important races," said Robert Walter, who bought Vine Hill 10 years ago. "You need a superior horse, you need money and patience, and you've got to have all the luck in the world."

Unlucky has been River Special, who won the Del Mar Futurity, the Norfolk at Santa Anita and the Hollywood Futurity in 1992, then was sidelined for most of last year, including the Triple Crown, because of a splint injury.

Here's the post-position order for the San Fernando:

Nonproductive Asset, Nancy's French Fry, Vegieman, Goldigger's Dream, River Special, Bat Eclat, Diazo, Stuka, Del Mar Dennis, Pleasant Tango, Goldigger's Dream and Zignew. Diazo and Stuka, both owned by Allen Paulson, will run as an entry. Diazo will carry 120 pounds, Goldigger's Dream 118 and the rest 116.

Since it began in 1952, only five horses--Round Table, Hillsdale, Ancient Title, Spectacular Bid and Precisionist--have swept the Strub series.

Horse Racing Notes

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