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HORSE RACING BILL CHRISTINE

Brittain's Blueprint Remains Unused

April 27, 2002|BILL CHRISTINE

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In 1986, trainer Clive Brittain brought the English colt Bold Arrangement to the U.S. and almost won the Kentucky Derby. In the process, the canny Brittain drafted the perfect blueprint for shipping a horse from overseas to the Kentucky Derby with a chance to win.

Yet no one in the ensuing years has thought to copy Brittain's master plan.

At this year's Santa Anita Derby, I asked Demi O'Byrne what he thought of Brittain's tactics. O'Byrne, an Irish veterinarian and a key advisor to Coolmore Stud and Michael Tabor, the owners of Johannesburg, wasn't familiar with the Bold Arrangement story.

"There aren't any races in England for 3-year-olds at this time of year," O'Byrne said.

The record is clear. Bold Arrangement ran nine times as a 2-year-old, a high number for a British horse, but appeared to be nothing more than a sprinter. He won four times in his first seven starts, never running a bad race but also never running farther than seven furlongs.

Finally, in his eighth race, Bold Arrangement was stretched out to a mile at Longchamp in Paris. He finished second, was disqualified to fourth for interference and then in his last 2-year-old race, again at a mile, he ran third back in England.

With nine races in four months, Brittain had toughened up Bold Arrangement for what was to come. This was a colt that was going into 1986 with a rock-solid foundation.

Bold Arrangement didn't make his 3-year-old debut until mid-March. Running against older horses, and making his first start in five months, he beat only one rival in a four-horse, one-mile race at Doncaster. At that point, Bold Arrangement had run all his races on grass, but away from the track Brittain was working him hard on a sandy training surface not unlike that at Churchill Downs.

Then in April 1986, Brittain sent Bold Arrangement to Lexington, Ky., to run in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland--his first race on dirt, his only race before the Kentucky Derby.

Brittain had inquired about Laffit Pincay riding his horse at Keeneland and in the Derby, but Pincay, reportedly for a mount fee of $25,000, had already signed on to ride Groovy, a confirmed sprinter, in the Derby. So Brittain stuck with Pat Eddery, the top European jockey who had won with Bold Arrangement as a 2-year-old.

Bold Arrangement, who raced from far back, came from ninth place at Keeneland to finish third, beaten by only three-quarters of a length.

Vanned the 70 miles from Keeneland to Churchill Downs, Bold Arrangement was already virtually racing fit. All Brittain had to do was maintain his conditioning level. Brittain breezed Bold Arrangement once at Churchill, a three-furlong work that cleared his lungs two days before the race. But Eddery, riding back in England, got into trouble with the stewards and drew a seven-day suspension, which would keep him out of the Derby. Most of the top jockeys were taken, and Chris McCarron finally got the mount. McCarron, already a Derby veteran, had ridden in the Derby five times, finishing second with Desert Wine three years before.

There were obvious betting choices in '86--Snow Chief, winner of the Florida and Santa Anita derbies, and Badger Land, the Flamingo winner, were the favorites--but Broad Brush, on a four-race winning streak that included the Wood Memorial, was allowed to go off at 14-1, and Ferdinand, a distant third on a slick track in the Santa Anita Derby, was a 17-1 overlay. Bold Arrangement was 9-1.

After half a mile, Bold Arrangement was 11th, 22 lengths behind Groovy's ridiculously quick :45 1/5 pace. There hadn't been a faster opening four furlongs in Derby history. Ferdinand was last of 16 horses.

At the quarter-pole, Groovy was backing up badly, and Broad Brush took over the lead as the stretch run approached. Leaving the turn, Ferdinand and Bill Shoemaker, moving toward the rail, were able to squeeze through a hole that closed in an instant on Rampage and Pat Day. Bold Arrangement edged ahead of Broad Brush, but Ferdinand outran them all, beating Brittain's--and Britain's--horse by 21/4 lengths for the Sunshine Boys, the 54-year-old Shoemaker and his trainer, 73-year-old Charlie Whittingham.

Brittain wanted to stay for the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, but the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture had approved Bold Arrangement for only two races. Back home in England, the veteran trainer was buoyed by the fact that he had played his cards perfectly here, and had lost only because Ferdinand and Shoemaker threaded a needle.

No offense to trainer Aidan O'Brien, the wunderkind from County Tipperary, but his Johannesburg, due in Kentucky on Tuesday, needed a 3-year-old prep race in this country. So did Castle Gandolfo, O'Brien's other Derby contender, and Essence Of Dubai, another in the wave of Derby horses from the Persian Gulf. Clive Brittain showed them the way, 16 years ago. Why hasn't anyone followed his lead?

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