He has won the race with an old gelding, a filly and a lot of colts. He has won the race with favorites and longshots. He has won it with stalkers, pacesetters and horses from the back of the pack. He has won it on firm ground and soft. He has won it with mostly Kentucky-breds but once with a horse bred in France. He has won it with horses he always rode and with one that he wasn't supposed to ride.
In summation, Chris McCarron has won the Hollywood Turf Cup just about every way possible, except riding sidesaddle.
He has won Hollywood Park's marathon grass stake a record eight times, and will be given a good chance for a ninth victory today when he rides Northern Quest, another runner from trainer Bobby Frankel's assembly line and a horse that finished second--to McCarron and Bienamado--in this stake last year.
A win by Northern Quest, over 12 rivals, would also enable McCarron to become the undisputed No.1 stakes rider in the history of the track. With 280 stakes wins, McCarron is tied with Bill Shoemaker for most victories. Laffit Pincay, who's riding the longshot Most Likely in the Turf Cup, is only two behind at 278.
Pincay has won the Turf Cup only once. Shoemaker won it once, and only two other jockeys--Corey Nakatani and Alex Solis, with two wins apiece--have won the race more than once.
McCarron's domination of the Turf Cup began when the race was 13/8 miles instead of today's 11/2 miles. He rode John Henry, then an 8-year-old gelding, to a half-length win over stablemate Zalataia in 1983. The next year he repeated with Alphabatim.
There was a four-year void after that, with McCarron not riding in the Turf Cup in 1986 or '87, but he was back with his third winner--and the first at 11/2 miles--with Frankly Perfect in 1989. Starting in 1991, McCarron won three in succession--with Miss Alleged, Bien Bien and Fraise. But for Mashkour's one-length loss to Itsallgreektome in 1990, McCarron would have had five consecutive wins. He scored his most recent Turf Cup victories with Running Flame, an 11-1 shot in 1996, and the favored Bienamado last year.
The Turf Cup is not an old race, having first been run 20 years ago, yet McCarron's history with the stake is already entrenched. So much so that only two jockeys who rode against him in 1983--Pincay and Eddie Delahoussaye--are still active. So much so that Bienamado is a son of Bien Bien, the 46-year-old Hall of Fame jockey's most controversial winner.
The stronger half of a Madeline-Allen Paulson entry in 1992, Fraise beat Bien Bien by a nose, then McCarron claimed foul against Pat Valenzuela, whose mount had bumped Bien Bien twice in the last sixteenth of a mile. With a $275,000 winner's purse--and a possible Eclipse Award--on the line for Fraise, the stewards conducted a long review and took down the number of the Breeders' Cup Turf winner. Sky Classic, beaten by Fraise in that Breeders' Cup several weeks before, won the Eclipse vote.
Via the disqualification, McCarron had his fifth Turf Cup win, and the next year there was an eagerly awaited rematch between Bien Bien and Fraise. The morning of the race, though, Paco Gonzalez, Bien Bien's trainer, scratched his horse because rain had softened the course. Then Valenzuela, with a history of no-shows on big-race days, called the stewards to say that he was sick.
Bill Mott, Fraise's trainer, drafted McCarron, who'd become available with the scratch of Bien Bien. Fraise overtook the leaders in mid-stretch and won by six lengths.
Once more today, in Northern Quest, McCarron will be astride a horse that ran well in the Turf Cup the year before. Frankel is running two other horses that may have more of a right to win--Sumitas, coming off a sharp win at Belmont Park, and Super Quercus, a September winner at Bay Meadows and the 1999 winner of the Hollywood Derby.
The California Horse Racing Board, at its meeting Friday in Davis, voted to allow advertising on jockey silks and pants and racetrack saddlecloths. Advertising must be approved by stewards....Val Royal will miss the Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 16 because of a hoof injury.