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SPORTS WEEKEND

A Muddle Royale

Four Trainers Are Left Thinking About What Might Have Been as Budroyale Closes In on $3-Million Mark

March 03, 2000|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trainer Dan Hendricks was smart enough in 1995 to claim Budroyale for $32,000. Then he was smart enough to move the young horse up the claiming ladder twice and win with him both times. Less than a month later, Hendricks was still smart when he brokered the deal that led to the sale of Budroyale for $120,000.

But in racing, nobody stays smart forever.

Budroyale is the second choice behind General Challenge in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday, and a win will move him into the select group of horses that have earned $3 million or more. But Hendricks will be on the sideline, consoling himself about the horse that got away.

He won't be alone. Three other trainers--Jay Robbins, Mike Puhich and Nick Canani--also let Budroyale slip through their fingers, during a time when the California-bred gelding's stakes credentials were nonexistent.

"Hey," said Hendricks, managing a thin smile, "if all of us knew back then what we know now, there would have been a 10-way shake when the horse ran for $32,000 again in 1997."

If Robbins, Hendricks, Puhich and Canani are the fall guys in the Budroyale saga, what does that make the dozens of trainers who watched the horse run 12 other times and didn't buy him? They are no better, or worse, than poor Vladimir Cerin, who confessed last year that he had filled out claim slips twice for Charismatic, but failed to drop them in the pre-race box. Charismatic was last year's Kentucky Derby winner and horse of the year.

Puhich, who was on the receiving end when Budroyale was sold privately for $120,000, is philosophical about losing the horse two years later on a $50,000 claim by Canani.

"He's always been a good horse," Puhich said. "I think all of us saw that in him early. I tried to make a Kentucky Derby run with him when I had him. But there is a touch of reality, talking about this horse now, while I'm sitting here at Turf Paradise, surrounded by $3,000 claimers."

Budroyale, now a 7-year-old, raced 15 times for Puhich and his owners, Al and Sandee Kirkwood. He won four, but none in a stake. The highlight, in retrospect, was the first race after the $120,000 purchase, when Budroyale won in allowance company on Feb. 16, 1996, at Santa Anita.

"I still have that [winner's circle] picture," Puhich said. "And there it is, the name of Grindstone as the second-place horse."

Less than three months later, Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby. The Kirkwoods had high hopes for Budroyale after he beat the future Derby winner. A month later, Budroyale was introduced to stakes competition at Santa Anita, but he bled and finished next to last in the San Felipe.

He did such little running that day that Puhich brought him back six days later, for a second-place finish behind Halo Sunshine in the Golden State Derby at Bay Meadows.

In late April, Budroyale ran himself out of Kentucky Derby consideration, finishing a dismal sixth in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Puhich brought the horse back to California, where he was badly beaten in two starts--one on the turf--at Hollywood Park. It was only late June, but it was time for Budroyale to take a long rest.

"The horse has respiratory problems," Puhich said. "You'd scope him after races, and it would show blood in his lungs, or a ton of mucus. It began to look like this was going to be a chronic thing."

Budroyale had been away from the races for more than six months when he won a mile allowance race at Santa Anita on Dec. 31, 1996. Four lackluster races ensued, and by early May he was running for $32,000--his original claiming price--at Hollywood Park. He won that race, and won again at the end of the month in a $40,000 claimer. Higher claiming prices brought more defeats, however, and on Aug. 17, for $40,000, Nick Canani grabbed him out of a 6 1/2-furlong race at Del Mar.

The son of Julio Canani, who won the Santa Anita Handicap with Martial Law at 50-1 in 1989, Nick Canani was 23 and just getting started with his own stable. He dismissed Budroyale's last-place run the day he claimed him. "I have no pretenses when I claim horses," Canani said. "They've been with other trainers, and if they run bad, you always figure that you can do something different to turn them around."

In the sixth months Canani had him, Budroyale ran consistently. He won in a $40,000 claimer at Fairplex Park. At 1 1/2 miles, he finished second to Ready Eddie in the California Cup Starters' Handicap at Santa Anita. He won against $50,000 claimers at Hollywood Park, was third in a $62,500 claimer at Santa Anita, and then, in January of 1998, Canani put him on turf for only the fourth time in his career.

"There was no special reason," Canani said. "There were no dirt races available, so I just thought I'd try him on turf."

Running a mile, Budroyale beat one horse. On Feb. 15, Budroyale was back on dirt at Santa Anita, running for a $50,000 tag in a mile race. He won by two lengths as trainer Ted West claimed him.

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