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Solis Returns to the Scene of '93 Slump

July 30, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

DEL MAR — A year ago at Del Mar, Alex Solis won only 15 races, on 8% of his mounts.

Solis got a new agent--Harry Hacek--a confidant--Fernando Toro--and now he has a new life as a jockey. His numbers since last year's Del Mar meeting:

Track Wins Win % Pos. Oak Tree 24 13 4th Hollywood Park 28 19 1st Santa Anita 68 16 4th Hollywood Park 78 19 1st

Since 1981, Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Laffit Pincay, Kent Desormeaux, Pat Valenzuela and Eddie Delahoussaye had monopolized riding titles, winning all but four of the 67 that have been available. The interlopers have been Aaron Gryder, who as an apprentice won Hollywood Park's short meeting in 1987, and Solis, who won a Santa Anita winter title in 1992 before his two recent championships.

Solis wasn't going to quit the game or return to Florida, as had been rumored after his dismal Del Mar showing last year.

"That was a very sad meet," Solis, 30, said the other day. "It got to the point where week after week, nothing was going right. I was scared. I was riding so bad that I couldn't see what to do different. I forgot how much fun riding had been. I got very sour."

For solace, Solis sought out Toro, who won more than 3,500 races. Solis arrived in California from Florida in 1985, and the Panamanian newcomer and the Chilean veteran became close before Toro retired in 1989.

Toro remembers having dinner with Solis last fall, not long after the Del Mar season ended. "Alex was very depressed," Toro said. "But he was very honest with himself. He was willing to face the facts that he was doing some things wrong."

Toro collected a batch of Solis' race tapes and began analyzing them. "He was trying too hard," Toro said.

The two began jogging together in the mornings, not far from Santa Anita. "Just keep working hard," Toro told Solis. "No matter what happens, you'll turn this thing around."

These therapy sessions might have been good for Solis, but they were wearing Toro down. "I was getting too sore," Toro said. "I finally told Alex that we better start walking while we talked, instead of running."

Trainers who had entrusted some of their best horses to Solis--Mel Stute, Ron McAnally and Bruce Headley--didn't quit on him. By the end of the year, Solis had sufficiently shaken off the Del Mar doldrums to total $6.2 million in purses, 14th nationally. He is at about $4.4 million this year, in ninth place.

"Hot jocks and cold jocks run in cycles," Stute said. "One of the reasons Alex might not have been doing much at Del Mar last year was that my barn wasn't winning much, either."

When Stute was training Snow Chief, four other jockeys weren't available to ride the inexperienced colt, so Solis got the job. In 1986, Solis rode Snow Chief to victory in the Preakness, the Florida Derby, the Santa Anita Derby and the Jersey Derby.

"Alex is one of the strongest finishers there is on a horse," Stute said. "From the eighth pole home, I can't think of another jockey I'd rather have riding for me."

Toro says Solis does all right early in a race too. "He has a good sense of pace," Toro said. "He works a lot of horses in the mornings, that's why he's so good with pace."

From Toro, Solis was able to regain his confidence. From his standby trainers, he got hope. And Hacek got him the horses.

"Harry's a great agent, and Fernando laid it out so clearly for me," Solis said. "I always knew what I could do. I think I've got great communication with horses, but it was Fernando who got my head together. I still want to learn every day, I want to keep improving and I'm happy as long as I'm giving 100%."

Solis didn't win Wednesday, Del Mar's opening day, then in Thursday's third race, he suffered a hip injury in a two-horse spill. A second set of X-rays showed what was believed to be an old bone chip in his right hip, and Solis didn't ride Friday.

But he will be back, maybe today. Del Mar doesn't scare him anymore.

Horse Racing Notes

Chris McCarron, who has sat out the last two days after suffering an ankle injury in a gate incident on opening day, is scheduled to ride two morning-line favorites in today's stakes. McCarron has the assignments on Kingdom Found, even money in the San Diego Handicap, and Work The Crowd, 5-2 in the San Clemente Handicap. McCarron will work some horses this morning before determining whether to resume riding.

Gary Stevens is off to a hot start with nine winners in three days, but he is being slowed by the stewards, who have handed him a five-day suspension for his role in an incident that led to a two-horse spill Thursday. The ban begins Monday. . . . Memo is the highweight at 121 pounds for Sunday's $100,000 Bing Crosby Handicap. Also entered are Thirty Slews, Trouble Onthe Line, Gundaghia, Soviet Problem, Slerp, Bahatur, Codified, J.F. Williams, Phone Roberto and King's Blade.

Sea Hero, who won the 1993 Kentucky Derby and Travers, and Tabasco Cat, a top contender for 3-year-old of the year, are expected to be in action at Saratoga during the weekend. Sea Hero will make his third start on the grass this year when he meets 13 rivals in the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer Handicap today. Tabasco Cat, winner of the Preakness and Belmont, is set to contest the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy on Sunday. Entries for the race for 3-year-olds were scheduled today.

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