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For Solis, It's Twice as Nice

His victories at Breeders' Cup, in which he has long struggled, earn him the inaugural Shoemaker award.

October 27, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

Two most happy fellas happened to be dining at a French restaurant near Santa Anita on Saturday night.

At one table was Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Assn., the host of Saturday's Breeders' Cup. Chillingworth was celebrating with family and friends the rousing day of racing at Santa Anita, where Oak Tree and Breeders' Cup betting records both fell.

At another table was Alex Solis and his family, who were quietly ecstatic about the biggest day in Solis' 22-year riding career. He had won two races on the eight-race Breeders' Cup card, booting Pleasantly Perfect to victory in the $4-million Breeders' Cup Classic and getting Johar to the wire in time for a dead heat with High Chaparral in the $2-million Turf.

From seven mounts, Solis also had a second (Minister Eric in the Juvenile), a third (Got Koko in the Distaff), a fourth (Irish Warrior in the Mile) and a fifth (Megahertz in the Filly & Mare Turf). His worst finish was Captain Squire's seventh in the Sprint. His horses earned more than $3.4 million.

No other jockey won more than one Breeders' Cup race, and on Sunday, after a media vote, Solis was presented with the first Bill Shoemaker Award, named after the Hall of Fame jockey who died on Oct. 12.

The award is given to the best jockey on Breeders' Cup day.

Chris McCarron, another Hall of Fame jockey and now general manager at Santa Anita, made the presentation. McCarron's voice was hoarse, from screaming at Saturday's races.

"Alex is one of my idols," said McCarron, who won the Classic a record five times. "He's like Laffit Pincay--his career has consisted of an incredible amount of dedication to fitness and nutrition."

Rather than being a national platform, the Breeders' Cup had been a bugbear for Solis until 2000. Before his victory with Kona Gold in the Sprint three years ago, he had been beaten with all 31 of his mounts.

The losing streak was exacerbated by a slew of tough beats--second-place finishes in six races, including losses by only a head with La Spia and Hawksley Hill. La Spia seemed to have the 1991 Juvenile Fillies won at Churchill Downs, but appeared to jump at the sight of a shadow in the stretch.

The horse that nipped her at the wire was Pleasant Stage, a daughter of Pleasant Colony. Coincidentally, Pleasantly Perfect was also sired by Pleasant Colony.

Solis' Breeders' Cup drought finally ended in 2000 at Churchill, where he rode Kona Gold to victory in the Sprint. He hadn't ridden any more Breeders' Cup winners until Saturday.

"The Breeders' Cup had been rough on me," said Solis, who's 39. "But you teach by example, and as the losses piled up, I kept telling my [four] kids that you should never quit even things aren't breaking right. I knew that if I kept working hard, a day like [Saturday] would come along."

Panamanian-born, like Pincay, Solis went to the famous jockey school in his homeland, rode his first winner there in 1981 and moved to Florida in 1982 with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket. He slept in barns before success came. After winning a few riding titles in Florida, trainer Brian Mayberry persuaded Solis to move to California in 1985. In 1996-97, he won six consecutive riding titles at Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita, and in 1996 he rode Dare And Go to victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, ending Cigar's 16-race win streak. Dare And Go was trained by Richard Mandella, who trained Pleasantly Perfect and Johar on his record-breaking four-win day Saturday. While Solis, who recorded his 4,000th victory on Friday, waxed enthusiastic about Pleasantly Perfect at a Breeders' Cup news conference Sunday, he was interrupted by Mandella.

"Come on, Alex," the trainer said. "You're going to get to ride him back."

Solis, who's married to the former Sheila Sonnier, the daughter of trainer Bert Sonnier, might have ridden another of Mandella's winners, Action This Day in the Juvenile, but he finished second in the race with Minister Eric, also trained by Mandella. Solis had ridden Action This Day in two starts, including a maiden win at Santa Anita a month ago, before David Flores took over for the Juvenile.

Flores gave Solis credit for helping him before the race. "He gave me a little line on how the horse would run," Flores said.

*

Storming Home, who ran seventh as the favorite in the Turf, suffered an injury to his right heel on the clubhouse turn, trainer Neil Drysdale said. Sulamani slammed into Storming Home, and then the horses clipped heels. Sulamani, the second choice, finished fifth. Drysdale wasn't certain how long Storming Home's injury would take to heal.

*

"The only guy who had a worse day than [Bobby] Frankel on Saturday was [New York Yankee owner] George Steinbrenner," trainer Bob Baffert said. Frankel ran eight horses in the Breeders' Cup, including four favorites, but his best finish was Medaglia d'Oro's second-place run in the Classic. Purses were paid to fifth place, which resulted in Frankel's horses still earning about $1 million.... Mandella's horses earned $4.5 million, a Breeders' Cup record.

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