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SANTA ANITA : A Bad Bad Day for Bien Bien in Big 'Cap Draw

March 04, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The owners of Bien Bien paid a $5,000 entry fee Thursday to get what one of them said was the worst post position for Saturday's $1-million Santa Anita Handicap.

Bien Bien, an excellent grass horse who would be returning to dirt, a surface on which he has won only once in seven tries, drew the No. 2 post in an eight-horse field. Whether that, and the high weight of 120 pounds, are enough to keep him from running probably won't be known until race day. Owners of Big 'Cap horses must pay another $10,000 to start, with first place in the 1 1/4-mile race worth $550,000.

"We took a chance (on entering), and it didn't turn out too good," said Trudy McCaffery, who races Bien Bien with John Toffan. "I think we got the worst post position we could possibly have."

Bien Bien is surrounded by what little speed there is in the 57th Big 'Cap. Hill Pass will break from the rail, and The Wicked North is on Bien Bien's other flank. Bien Bien, who has six victories and five seconds in 15 races and earnings of $1.6 million, usually runs from slightly off the pace.

Bien Bien might be the high weight, but The Wicked North, winner of the San Antonio Handicap three weeks ago and in the money 11 times in 13 starts, has been made the 2-1 morning-line favorite by track oddsmaker Jeff Tufts. Region, third in the San Antonio, his first race in more than three months, is next at 7-2, followed by Bien Bien at 4-1.

Here's the field, with jockeys, weights and odds: Hill Pass, Chris McCarron, 115 pounds, 8-1; Bien Bien, Laffit Pincay, 120, 4-1; The Wicked North, Kent Desormeaux, 118, 2-1; Nonproductiveasset, Corey Nakatani, 116, 6-1; Myrakalu, Alex Solis, 113, 30-1; Stuka, Chris Antley, 115, 8-1; Region, Eddie Delahoussaye, 116; 7-2, and Kissin Kris, Jerry Bailey, 119, 8-1.

With a composite record of three victories in 16 starts this year, the field will not be an echo of 1988, when Alysheba beat Ferdinand by a half-length in a battle of Kentucky Derby winners; or of 1940, when Seabiscuit won the Big 'Cap with 130 pounds on his back.

Still, trainer Wally Dollase, who claimed Nonproductiveasset from Ted West for $40,000 at Hollywood Park last May, is thrilled to be in the race.

"When I got this horse, I sure didn't think I'd be here with him," Dollase said. "I'm overwhelmed to be in a race with such owners as Claiborne Farm (Region), John Franks (Kissin Kris) and Allen Paulson (Stuka)."

Nonproductiveasset, a 4-year-old gelding, races in the name of Richard Stephen, the Manhattan Beach owner of a $100-million-a-year women's apparel business, and his 2-year-old grandson. Before acquiring Nonproductiveasset, Stephen shared in some of Dollase's best bargain-basement purchases: Journalism earned more than $300,000 after Dollase bought him for $50,000; Supah Gem, a $110,000 investment, beat double Eclipse Award winner Paseana in last month's Santa Maria Handicap, and Boating Pleasure, a $40,000 claim, won the $100,000 California Cup Juvenile in 1992.

"Boating Pleasure wasn't really that good of a horse," Dollase said. "But he won the big race when it counted."

Of some concern to Dollase Saturday is that Nonproductiveasset might be another model of Itsallgreektome, a $75,000 yearling who ran second in both the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile and 1991 Breeders' Cup Turf.

"There's a certain amount of second-itis to this horse, too," Dollase said. "But he's already got a good mile-and-a-quarter race under his belt, and that should help. He's not a good work horse, but I worked him with another horse the other day and he gave us a super work (1:01 4/5 for five furlongs). The Wicked North should give us something to run at. If a claiming horse won this race, that would really be history."

None of the Big 'Cap horses have won at 1 1/4 miles on dirt, but at least Nonproductiveasset was second, beaten by a nose by Diazo in the Strub Stakes. Diazo might have been favored Saturday, but he cracked a cannon bone in a workout last Sunday.

Not surprisingly, Corey Nakatani, Dollase's son-in-law, has opted to ride Nonproductiveasset. Nakatani also rode Region to three stakes victories last year and was aboard for the 5-year-old gelding's encouraging return in the San Antonio.

Nakatani's decision left trainer Richard Mandella with Eddie Delahoussaye to ride Region.

Delahoussaye, 42, might be 0 for 12 in the Big 'Cap, but his mounts have won eight $1-million races, including two in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita last fall.

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