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Horse Racing | DEL MAR

Bonus Throws Classic Off Stride

July 27, 1996|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEL MAR — Trainer Wally Dollase will be a reluctant participant when he runs Helmsman against Cigar in the $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar two weeks from today.

"It doesn't make any sense," Dollase said. "We get 124 pounds, the same as Cigar. I ought to be sending Helmsman back to grass, and thinking about the Arlington Million. But then there's the bonus. We've gotta go in the Pacific Classic."

The three-race MGM Grand Classic Crown bonus, worth $500,000, was conceived as an inducement for Cigar to run in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, but it has become a travesty. With Cigar missing the Big 'Cap because of a bruised foot, Luthier Fever finished second. Last month Luthier Fever was not a fit horse for the Hollywood Gold Cup, the middle race in the bonus series, but he ran anyway and barely completed the course, jockey Kent Desormeaux easing him in the stretch.

Horses must run in all three races to be eligible for the bonus, which eliminates Siphon, who didn't run in the 'Big Cap but won the Gold Cup. Mr Purple, winner of the Big 'Cap, was also eased in the Gold Cup and is out indefinitely because of an injury.

In the bonus standings, this leaves only Helmsman, with 15 points for his fourth-place finish in the Big 'Cap and his third in the Gold Cup, and Luthier Fever, with seven points for his second at Santa Anita.

Luthier Fever, winless in five starts this year, is now in the care of Eduardo Inda, his third trainer in five months. Gary Jones and Ted West preceded Inda.

"I guess Luthier Fever will run in the Pacific Classic," Dollase said, "but if he has trouble finishing again this will be bad for racing, and racing can't afford another black eye. The rule for the bonus should have said that you have to finish the three races, not just run in them."

The rule for the now-defunct $1-million Triple Crown bonus stipulated that a horse had to finish the races. In 1993, Prairie Bayou, second in the Kentucky Derby and winner of the Preakness, broke down and was destroyed in the Belmont, costing his owners the bonus. Sea Hero, winner of the Derby but off the board in the Preakness and Belmont, collected the $1 million, which was donated to equine research by his chagrined owner, Paul Mellon. The Triple Crown bonus was discontinued.

By finishing second in the Pacific Classic--and under the fairly safe assumption that Luthier Fever doesn't win--Helmsman would earn $533,350, almost as much as the $600,000 that goes to the winner. Second place is worth $200,000 and the larger bonus payoff--two-thirds of the $500,000--is $333,350. The worst Luthier Fever can do in the Pacific Classic is collect $166,650, the lower bonus share, which is $46,650 more than the purse for finishing third in the race.

Cigar, who also missed the Hollywood Gold Cup because of another foot injury, will be shooting for his 17th consecutive win at Del Mar. A win would break Citation's record of 16 in a row, set in the 1948 and 1950 seasons.

Luthier Fever has won six of 23 starts, his only stakes win coming in the California Cup Classic, a race restricted to state-breds, at Santa Anita last year. Helmsman, a European import bought by Dollase in England for $125,000 last year, has four wins and four seconds in 10 starts in this country and has never finished worse than fourth.

In today's $150,000 San Diego Handicap, Dollase will saddle Nonproductiveasset, a $40,000 claim from Ted West at Hollywood Park in May 1993, on the day the 6-year-old gelding broke his maiden. Nonproductiveasset has earned more than $400,000 under Dollase, winning five of 17 starts and finishing fourth in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

The San Clemente Handicap is also on today's card, but the most intriguing race of the day is a sprint allowance that marks the return of Larry The Legend, who has undergone two knee operations since he won the Santa Anita Derby last year.

Horse Racing Notes

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