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THOROUGHBRED RACING / BILL CHRISTINE : Trainer Hoping Mud Brings Out Best in College Town Once Again

March 10, 1995|BILL CHRISTINE

In a 48-year training career, Mel Stute has watched a lot of big races and seen a lot of important horses, but Thursday he recalled a horse who had his biggest achievement at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.

"Rob Bob was the horse," Stute said. "Cecil Wilhelm was the trainer. Rob Bob ran in a race on a Friday at Pomona, in the 1960s, then came back the next day and won another race, in stakes-record time. I'll never forget it."

Stute had this flashback because he will be trying to win Saturday's $1-million Santa Anita Handicap with College Town, a 4-year-old gelding who won the Arcadia Handicap on Sunday. The Arcadia was run on a sloppy track, and with the forecast calling for three to five inches of rain by Saturday, Stute figures this is as good a time as any to wheel back College Town.

"I've always been a running trainer," he said. "Running this horse off six days' rest is no different than what I do with the rest of the horses in my barn. I try to grind out the purses. That's what I'm supposed to do."

In another era, running horses in races close together was not uncommon. In 1936, with Johnny Longden in the saddle, Rushaway won the Illinois Derby one day, made a 300-mile train trip and won the Latonia Derby at a track near Cincinnati the next.

More recently, there were notable victories in New York by horses making quick comebacks. In 1982, Conquistador Cielo won the Belmont Stakes for Woody Stephens five days after having won the Metropolitan Handicap. And in 1985, at Aqueduct, trainer John Veitch won the Breeders' Cup Classic with Proud Truth only seven days after the colt had won the Discovery Handicap.

College Town, who is 12-1 on the morning line, will run Saturday only if the track is off.

"I'm not going to drain my swimming pool," Stute said. "That way it's bound to rain."

The absence of the injured and retired Holy Bull has paved the way for an 11-horse field, but Santa Anita will be hard-pressed to draw the crowd of 55,000-60,000 that the 1994 horse of the year might have attracted. Best Pal, who has never won an Eclipse Award, even though he has earned $5.2 million, becomes the No. 1 attraction as he tries to win the Big 'Cap for the second time.

In the 57 previous runnings, only John Henry, another durable gelding, has been a double winner. John Henry, born 20 years ago Thursday, won by a length over King Go Go in 1981, then was given the victory via a stewards' disqualification after Perrault beat him by a nose in 1982.

Best Pal, a 5 1/2-length winner over Twilight Agenda in 1992, will run coupled in the betting with Dramatic Gold, who also races for John and Betty Mabee, and the entry has been installed as the 6-5 favorite. Best Pal is also the high weight at 122 pounds, two pounds less than he carried in 1992. He also carried 124 pounds while running fifth in the Big 'Cap in 1993.

Stute, 67, has had six starters in the Santa Anita Handicap, his best chance coming with Snow Chief, College Town's sire, in 1987. Snow Chief, winner of the Florida Derby, the Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness the year before, was the 126-pound high weight, but the favorite became Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner.

Alex Solis had been Snow Chief's regular jockey, but he was injured at the start of 1987 and Pat Valenzuela took over, winning the Strub Stakes a month before the Big 'Cap. Stute wanted Solis back on Snow Chief for the Big 'Cap, but Carl Grinstead, one of the colt's owners, preferred Valenzuela.

Snow Chief took the lead on the far turn, but couldn't hold it. In the last jump, Broad Brush beat Ferdinand by a nose and Snow Chief finished fifth, beaten by about seven lengths.

Snow Chief, who was injured and retired several months later, earned $3.3 million and was the top-ranking California-bred earner until Best Pal came along.

Snow Chief wasn't fashionably bred, and his offspring haven't done much. Of all his progeny, College Town has earned the most--almost $400,000--even though owner-breeder David N. Brown's horse has won only four of 28 starts. He has also had eight second-place finishes and two thirds, and last fall, in three weeks, he won the California Cup Classic, at 33-1 at Santa Anita, and the Laz Barrera Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Stute ran College Town 21 times as a 3-year-old. This year, before the Arcadia Handicap, College Town ran against some Santa Anita Handicap horses and did poorly. He was sixth and last in the San Pasqual Handicap, a race won by Del Mar Dennis, and he was the slowest of five horses in the Strub, on a day when Dare And Go, the winner, beat him by 14 1/2 lengths. But those races were on fast tracks.

"This horse has a big, flat foot," Stute said. "He's not supposed to like a muddy track, but Sunday he did."

Horse Racing Notes

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