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A Great Lure : Colt Blossoms on Grass Tracks With Versatility and Quickness En Route to Breeders' Domination

November 04, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — During the summer of 1992, Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm stopped by trainer Shug McGaughey's barn at Belmont Park.

"I've looked at all your horses," Hancock said. "They all look fine except Lure. He looks horrible. What's the matter?"

"I don't know," Shug shrugged.

Sired by the fancy stallion Danzig, Lure was projected by Claiborne as the next Swale, who had won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes for the Paris, Ky., farm in 1984. But the closest Lure came to a Triple Crown race was running in a minor stake on Belmont Stakes day. He finished next to last, bringing his record to three victories in seven starts, all on dirt.

Although Lure has the stocky, compact conformation of a sprinter and doesn't have a large, roundish foot that usually helps when running on grass, McGaughey decided to start working him on turf when his horses arrived at Saratoga that summer. To get closer to the horse, to find out what made him tick, McGaughey also started feeding the colt.

"Trying him on grass was a last resort," McGaughey said.

The first time Lure ran on grass was in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Belmont on Sept. 14, 1992. He won by 10 1/4 lengths, with Mike Smith not even needing his whip. Lure hasn't raced on dirt again, and on Saturday at Churchill Downs he will try to win the $1-million Breeders' Cup Mile for the third time in a row, which would enable him to join Miesque and Bayakoa as the only horses with three victories in the series.

Overall, Lure's grass record is 11 victories and six seconds in 17 starts, with purses of $2.2 million.

"Most things don't work," McGaughey said of Lure's grass experiment. "This did work."

Lure's first Breeders' Cup try, at Gulfstream Park in 1992, was only his third race on grass, and McGaughey still wasn't bubbling with confidence. In the paddock before the race, he facetiously said to Smith, "If this (grass) doesn't work, I might as well quit training."

A horse like Lure would keep a trainer around for a long time. Arazi, a last resort of another color, was the lukewarm favorite at Gulfstream, but he finished 11th while Lure, at 5-1, led all the way and beat Paradise Creek, then an unaccomplished 3-year-old, by three lengths. That was the start of a lively rivalry between Lure and Paradise Creek, but not one that will be resumed here Saturday, because Paradise Creek is the 8-5 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles.

By the time Lure was ready to run in his second Breeders' Cup, at Santa Anita last year, anything but a victory would have been a bitter disappointment for McGaughey and Claiborne. The colt didn't disappoint. He overcame the No. 12 post position in a 13-horse field. He overcame a jam-up on the clubhouse turn that forced him wide. And he came thundering home at 13-10 odds to beat Ski Paradise by 2 1/4 lengths.

Lure has an even worse post position Saturday. He will break from the outside in a 14-horse field, but he is still the 9-5 favorite on the morning line.

"What he's done has been unbelievable," McGaughey said. "He's got a chance to win three of these races, when most horses don't even get a chance to run in three."

When asked to tell what makes Lure tick, McGaughey said:

"He's very versatile, and he's very quick. He's a good athlete. He's probably the best athlete of any horse that will run on Breeders' Cup day. That allows him to overcome adversity."

Lure is expected to join stallions such as Mr. Prospector, Danzig, Cox's Ridge, Private Account, Personal Ensign and Devil's Bag at Claiborne next year. Even a third Breeders' Cup triumph will probably not bring the horse a first Eclipse Award. The male grass title is likely to go to Paradise Creek, who has accounted for two of Lure's three defeats this year, both at 1 1/8 miles. Lure avenged one of those losses in the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, handing Paradise Creek his only defeat this year.

Lure suffered his other loss a month ago in the Kelso Handicap, a race he had won in 1993. Unraced for almost two months, Lure spotted the winner, Nijinsky's Gold, 14 pounds and lost by a nose, with Smith drawing some criticism for a lackluster ride.

McGaughey has seldom been tough on jockeys. In a long career, he can remember only one time when he really lit into a rider after a race. And after the Kelso, he excused Smith.

"Maybe he might have been a little overconfident," McGaughey said. "But I'd rather have him overconfident in a $200,000 race than one for a million dollars."

Horse Racing Notes

There were two Breeders' Cup scratches Thursday. Call Now, who had a chance in the Juvenile Fillies, is out after running a 102-degree fever, and longshot Pineing Patty won't make the Juvenile because of a fever. . . . Dispute, a Shug McGaughey-trained stablemate of Heavenly Prize in the Distaff, is doubtful because of a hoof problem.

Lochsong, a 6-year-old English mare running in the Sprint, shocked clockers with a three-furlong workout in :33 3/5. "We tried to give her a little hack canter," jockey Frankie Dettori said. "But she didn't like that too much because she saw the other horses going faster than her."

Neil Drysdale, training Hollywood Wildcat for the Distaff, said workouts don't necessarily indicate how a horse will handle Churchill Downs in a race. "The track can change from day to day and you can see it changing this week," Drysdale said. "It's not as deep and cuppy as it was earlier." . . . The weather forecast for Saturday is temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees and a 40% chance of showers.

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