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Larry's Still a Legend, and Now He's on the Trail of a Comeback

June 21, 1996|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Of the 93 horses who worked Tuesday morning at Santa Anita, he is the only one who receives mail almost regularly.

It has been more than 14 months since the crowning moment of his career--a victory by a head over Afternoon Deelites in the Santa Anita Derby--but Larry The Legend is still a fan favorite.

"I'm constantly getting inquiries from everywhere about him," owner-trainer Craig Lewis said. "It's astounding that a horse who hasn't raced in over a year gets that kind of attention. People really like him. I like him too."

After two operations to remove bone chips from the same knee, a bigger, stronger Larry The Legend is back in training. His 47 4/5-second half-mile Tuesday was the fourth workout for the 4-year-old son of Local Talent since he returned from surgery. He began at an eighth of a mile, worked three furlongs twice, then the half-mile. So far, all is well.

"He was well within himself [Tuesday] and he [came out of the work] well," said Lewis, who said the colt will work another half-mile Monday morning. "I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm holding my breath every time he breezes. I'm in trouble when he gets up to three-quarters [of a mile] because I can't hold my breath that long.

"I'm very pleased with how he's doing. It would be tremendous to have him make it back [to the races]. There's a chance he won't come back as good, but it would be nice for the opportunity to have him come back."

Named for Lewis' brother, Larry, who was manager of the Long Beach team that won the Little League World Series in 1992 and '93, Larry The Legend was bred by Illinois horsewomen and longtime Lewis client Photini Jaffe.

Financial difficulties left Jaffe behind in her bills with Lewis, and eventually she was forced into bankruptcy.

To settle the debt, Lewis was extended a line of credit for the 1994 Barretts October mixed sale by the bankruptcy court for the amount he was owed, but the credit was good only to purchase the four horses Jaffe had with the trainer.

He got three for $6,000, $5,200 and $4,500, then bought Grands Echezeaux--Larry The Legend's original name--for $2,500.

Second to Petionville in his sprint debut on New Year's Eve 1994, Larry The Legend then rattled off four consecutive wins, capped by the thriller in the Santa Anita Derby. His other stakes victories came in the Santa Catalina and San Rafael.

Seemingly beaten by Afternoon Deelites with less than an eighth of a mile to run, the colt, who wasn't the favorite that day but was definitely the people's choice, found enough to get up under Gary Stevens and win the photo in 1:47 4/5.

"It was sheer elation," said Lewis, remembering the highlight of a career in which he has won, among other important races, the Hollywood Gold Cup with Cutlass Reality in 1988 and the Del Mar Futurity with Music Merci the same year.

The happiness didn't last long. The dream of going to the Kentucky Derby ended when the knee problem surfaced.

"It was devastating," said Lewis, 49. "To have a chance to take a horse who's a bona fide contender to the Triple Crown races is something that doesn't along that often.

"But I was happy to have been in that situation at all. I was thankful for what I did have."

About 3 1/2 months later, Larry The Legend began his first comeback, but it ended almost as soon as it began when another chip had to be removed.

Now, Comeback II is progressing nicely and the colt seems glad to have returned.

"This horse is unbelievably happy," Lewis said. "He's a bona fide race horse. He loves to train. He just can't wait. It's an absolute pleasure for him to train."

Joy Scott has worked Larry The Legend and she agrees. "He's something," the jockey said. "Going off with the pony [when he worked three furlongs in 37 seconds on June 6], it felt like I was sitting on an explosion. But, at this point, we're just keeping it quiet and easy. It's not time to light the fire. He's going nice and cool.

"I walked past his stall the other day and I said, 'Hi, Larry.' He turned, looked at me, and I'm sure he smiled."

Provided the comeback continues to progress, Lewis said Larry The Legend could return in the $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 18 at the new Emerald Downs. The track in Auburn, Wash., began its inaugural 100-day meeting Thursday.

"I don't want to jinx myself, but that's the plan," Lewis said. "We could make it if there are no setbacks."

*

Raw Gold, the even-money favorite, took the lead in midstretch and overcame Tanja under left-handed urging by Chris Antley to win The Arbor Vitae, a handicap event for 3-year-old fillies at Hollywood Park on Thursday.

Raw Gold spotted the field from three to 10 pounds and paid $4.

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