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California Sends Out a Quality Field

Horse racing: State won't have a lot of horses at Breeders' Cup, but the ones there have a good chance at winning.

November 02, 1998|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Some of the previous Breeders' Cups, in New York, Kentucky, Florida and Canada, have looked like Santa Anita East. Some years, the Eastern barns are crammed with California shippers. But not this time. The 15th Breeders' Cup, to be run Saturday at Churchill Downs, will be remembered as the year most of the Californians stayed home.

Which is not to say that horses from California won't impact the seven-race, $12-million day. The quality-instead-of-quantity bromide fits. Even with the loss of Sharp Cat, the heavy favorite in the Distaff, Southern California-based horses are factors in the five of the six remaining races.

They could be favorites in two of them. Trainer Bob Baffert's talented pair, Excellent Meeting and Silverbulletday are the morning-line choices for the Juvenile Fillies, and his Silver Charm, with his Kentucky Derby-winning reputation, has an outside chance to go off favored against Skip Away in the $4-million Classic.

Antahkarana, who has been stabled at Hollywood Park, has become a forgotten contender in the Juvenile Fillies, perhaps because it's so difficult to spell her name. But trainer Ben Cecil, making his Breeders' Cup debut, is looking for an upset. Antahkarana has run second twice to Excellent Meeting, and she whittled the deficit by 3 1/2 lengths in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 10.

Elsewhere, the temperamental Labeeb is dangerous in the Mile, which is the perfect distance for trainer Neil Drysdale's 6-year-old British-bred. Labeeb has four wins, one second and one third in seven grass starts at a mile, including wins at Woodbine and Hollywood Park this year.

"This is the best group of grass horses I've ever had," said Drysdale, who'll also run Hawksley Hill in the Mile. The 5-year-old Irish-bred hasn't won a Grade I race since coming to the U.S. at the end of 1997, but he has won three of five mile starts under Drysdale.

If size meant anything, the strapping Military would be odds-on in the Mile. The 4-year-old colt weighs 1,280 pounds, according to trainer Wally Dollase, and stands 17 hands (68 inches). A mile is not Military's forte but he's running that distance Saturday because his owner, Prince Ahmed Salman of Saudi Arabia, is running Royal Anthem in the Turf at 1 1/2 miles. Royal Anthem had been running in England before his convincing win over Chief Bearhart, last year's Turf winner, in the Canadian International at Woodbine on Oct. 18.

"I would have been 110% confident if Sharp Cat had run in the Distaff," said Dollase, who's been reduced to one Breeders' Cup starter. "Now I'm just ecstatic she's alive and on the way to recovery."

Following a 1 1/8-mile gallop here Saturday, Sharp Cat cramped up badly coming off the track and was in a touch-and-go mode for about five hours.

"She's 95% back," Dollase said Sunday morning as veterinarian Alex Harthill arrived at the barn to continue treating the 4-year-old filly.

Arriving on a plane from California today are two more Dollase horses--only they're trained by Craig Dollase, the veteran conditioner's son. Craig Dollase could set a Breeders' Cup record if Reraise wins the wide-open Sprint or if Daring General wins the Juvenile. The youngest trainer to ever saddle a Breeders' Cup winner has been Phil Hauswald, who was 28 when Epitome won the Juvenile Fillies at Hollywood Park in 1987. Dollase won't turn 28 until Dec. 8.

Reraise, a 3-year-old gelding, has run only five times, which easily makes him the most inexperienced starter in the Sprint, but his owners and Dollase are obviously serious: They've supplemented him into the six-furlong race at a cost of $120,000. A 12-length win just up the road at Turfway Park will stir the wallets of many a horseman.

Bobby Frankel is the Hall of Fame trainer with the worst luck in the Breeders' Cup, but he's back again with four contenders, the best of whom is River Bay in the Turf. River Bay has won two of five starts in Frankel's care, both wins at 1 1/2 miles. With $2.4 million in purses, Frankel is 10th on the Breeders' Cup trainers' money list, even though he's winless in 26 starts. He has had four seconds, three thirds and four fourths. One of Frankel's four horses has been disenfranchised as a California type. The Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill, who's running in the Distaff, has spent too much time in the East this year to qualify.

Not counting Keeper Hill, the California Breeders' Cup contingent stands at 19 going into entry day Wednesday. There are almost as many Europeans--15--in this year's hunt.

"I don't see this as a sign of weakness," said the Santa Anita-based Baffert. "California guys ship around the country more than anybody. But you don't find them going just to go. They won't go out of town unless they've got the real good shot."

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