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HORSE RACING

This Colt Is a Very Fast Worker

Thoroughbred racing: Event Of The Year impresses clockers at Churchill Downs.

April 18, 1998|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, there wasn't a horse at Churchill Downs who worked faster than Silver Charm. He fired three bullets--the Daily Racing Form's designation for fastest workouts of the day--for trainer Bob Baffert, and only Martians and cave-dwellers may not be aware of what came next in the Kentucky Derby.

This year, there's another 3-year-old who is wowing the clockers in Louisville. Event Of The Year, who worked seven furlongs in 1:25 2/5 a week ago, went a mile Friday in 1:37 4/5 over a track that was listed as good after more than an inch of rain the day before.

"It's an indicator that he likes the track and that he's pretty fit," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "Now our major workout for the Derby is done."

Hollendorfer has been commuting between his base at Bay Meadows and Churchill Downs to supervise Event Of The Year's workouts. Friday's work was delayed a day because of the rain. With Donna Barton aboard, Event Of The Year went :23 2/5, :47 4/5, 1:12 3/5 and 1:25 1/5 early. His four-, six- and seven-furlong fractions were faster than any workouts at that distance. He was the only horse to work a mile Friday.

It's fortunate for Hollendorfer that Event Of The Year is a willing work horse, because the lightly raced colt will be trying to overcome all sorts of history in the 124th Derby. These are his obstacles:

* An undefeated horse hasn't won the Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977. Event Of The Year, a son of Seattle Slew, has won all four of his races.

* A horse hasn't won the Derby with four career starts or fewer since the filly Regret ran first in 1915 off three previous races.

* A horse hasn't won the Derby off more than a four-week layoff since Needles in 1956. The gap between Needles' win in the Florida Derby and his victory in Kentucky was 41 days. Event Of The Year, who won the Jim Beam Stakes last month at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., will have 33 days between races.

* A Northern California-based horse has never won the Derby.

Event Of The Year, who will be ridden by Russell Baze in the Derby, races for his breeders, John and Betty Mabee of San Diego. Despite his sparkling workouts and undefeated record, he is not likely to go off the favorite. That distinction might go to Indian Charlie, also undefeated in four starts and winner of the Santa Anita Derby.

This is such a wide-open Derby that the tentative field changes daily. These are the horses still in the hunt:

Definite starters (13)--Indian Charlie, Real Quiet, Event Of The Year, Halory Hunter, Favorite Trick, Cape Town, Artax, Old Trieste, Parade Ground, Victory Gallop, Chilito, Hanuman Highway, Basic Trainee.

Possibilities (3)--Comic Strip, Yarrow Brae, Saratoga Springs.

Outside chance (4)--Shot Of Gold, Grand Slam, Nite Dreamer, Nationalore.

Some of the horses at the bottom of the list are an intriguing lot. Grand Slam, a top 2-year-old last year, was severely injured in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November and finished last in his only start since leg surgery. Nationalore, who suffered pulmonary bleeding while finishing sixth in the Santa Anita Derby, is a maiden--no wins in 15 starts--who has still earned almost $300,000. Saratoga Springs, who raced in England and Ireland last year, winning four of seven starts, is unraced this year.

Wayne Lukas, who has won the Derby three times, trains Cape Town and will run two more horses--Grand Slam and Yarrow Brae--once more to see if they belong in the Derby. Grand Slam is part of a nine-horse field for Sunday's $325,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Yarrow Brae, a distant second to Event Of The Year in the Jim Beam, will run next Saturday in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.

Shot Of Gold is not likely to join the Baffert duo of Indian Charlie and Real Quiet in the Derby. The Rushaway Stakes winner at Turfway on Jim Beam day, Shot Of Gold is running Sunday in the $250,000 Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park near Dallas.

"He needs to run a monster race to go," Baffert said.

Horse Racing Notes

A week ago today, trainer Elliott Walden won the $500,000 Arkansas Derby with Victory Gallop at Oaklawn Park and also captured the $211,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup with Distorted Humor at Keeneland. Walden will be at Santa Anita on Sunday, trying to win the $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap with Royal Strand, who was third in the Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream Park last month. This is the field, in post-position order, for the San Juan: Belgavia, Si Seductor, Ela-Aristokrati, Ithaki, Top Glory, Amerique, Kassem Power, Devonwood, New Frontier, Royal Strand and Star Performance. The high weights at 116 pounds apiece are Kassem Power, winner of the San Luis Rey Stakes, and Ela-Aristokrati.

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