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Don't bet against a surprise

Big things happen at the Breeders' Cup, particularly during the six previous events in Southern California.

October 22, 2008|Pete Thomas | Thomas is a Times staff writer.

As Richard Mandella rushed to saddle Pleasantly Perfect for the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, he did so with flagging confidence.

"I did think for a minute," the trainer recalls. "And my thought was, 'There's no way I could have any more luck to get another victory, so this poor guy is just going to have to do the best he can.' "

Another of Mandella's horses, Johar, had just finished in a dead heat with High Chaparral, after a lengthy stewards conference that kept Mandella waiting longer than he'd intended.

Before that, Mandella's Halfbridled won the Juvenile Fillies and his Action This Day triumphed in the Juvenile.

During the $4-million Classic, the veteran trainer watched dreamlike as Alex Solis charged from off the pace to guide Pleasantly Perfect, a 14-1 shot, to a 1 1/2 -length victory.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, October 23, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Horse racing: An article on previous Breeders' Cups in Southern California in Wednesday's Sports section said Skywalker won the Classic in 1996. Skywalker won in 1986. Also, a Breeders' Cup article that ran in Tuesday's Sports section said Intangaroo won the Humana Distaff on May 8, Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs. The date of that race and the derby was May 3.

Four wins in a day and a combined $4,564,040 in prize money are Breeders' Cup records that may never be broken.

But it'd be foolish to assume that nothing equally surprising, uplifting or awe-inspiring will occur Friday or Saturday, when the Breeders' Cup World Championships return to Santa Anita.

It will be the 25th running of a series steeped in lore. If Azeri, Alysheba, A.P. Indy, Cigar, Ferdinand, Sunday Silence or defending Classic champion Curlin could talk, they'd tell you.

Imagine what Arcangues might have imparted to those of little faith after he'd upstaged the great Bertrando in the 1993 Classic at Santa Anita, and rewarded the little old ladies who bet on him with $2 win tickets worth $269.20.

But that's horse racing. Even at the elite level in the sport of kings, craziness often reigns. And Breeders' Cup fans need glimpse no farther than Southern California -- site of six world championships, going on seven -- to see for themselves.

The series broke from the gate smoothly at Hollywood Park in 1984. But in only the second race, the Juvenile Fillies, Fran's Valentine and jockey Patrick Valenzuela stunned the crowd by finishing first at 75-1.

And stewards stunned bettors by sending a disqualified Fran's Valentine to the back of the pack, leaving those who'd wagered on the new winner, Outstandingly, holding $47.50 win tickets.

Later in the program, a European invader, the Aga Khan's Lashkari, ridden by Y. Saint-Martin and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, won the Breeders' Cup Turf at more than 50-1.

During the inaugural Classic, a dramatic stretch run by top horses and iconic jockeys brought fans to their feet. Wild Again was on the inside, Slew o' Gold in the middle and Gate Dancer on the outside.

"Coming down the stretch I thought I was going to win the race for sure," recalls Laffit Pincay Jr., who was aboard Gate Dancer. "But at that time the horses from the inside were drifting out."

And Gate Dancer drifted sharply in. There was continuous bumping, and when the dust settled, Wild Again, with Pat Day aboard, had crossed first by a nose. Gate Dancer was second and Slew o' Gold, with Angel Cordero Jr. in the saddle, was third.

Gate Dancer was subsequently disqualified and swapped places with Slew o' Gold.

"They have to blame somebody, so they blame me," says Pincay, who claimed redemption when he won his first and only Classic aboard Skywalker at Santa Anita in 1996.

Of course, the Breeders' Cup has its obscure side stories. Derek Meredith, a little-known trainer, received his big chance when a French owner put him in charge of Cardmania.

Cardmania won the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in 1993, and Meredith's future seemed as bright as a fall afternoon.

However, he received no other notable clients and became little-known again. He currently cares for six horses in three stalls at Hollywood Park.

"All my owners are working men," he says. "It's hard to get a good horse. But I keep getting out of bed in the morning, and I keep trying."

Interestingly, Eddie Delahoussaye snubbed mega-trainer Bob Baffert in the '93 Sprint. He dropped Thirty Slews in favor of Cardmania. Thirty Slews ran fourth and, according to legend, Delahoussaye never rode another Baffert-trained horse.

"Naw," the retired jockey corrects. "I didn't ride another horse for him for about a year. He told me I was making a mistake, but I told him I wanted to ride the best horse just like he wanted to find the best rider.

"But me and Bobby is friends. We're still friends to this day."

Friendship and camaraderie. Horse racing remains a good-ol'-boys universe. But women have sauntered boldly forth.

Jenine Sahadi became the first winning female trainer in Breeders' Cup history after Lit De Justice prevailed in the Sprint at Woodbine in 1996.

A year later Sahadi was in charge of Elmhurst. She let him sip red wine to soothe his nerves on race day, and he happily won the Sprint in record time at Hollywood Park.

Then there's Julie Krone, who became the first winning female jockey in Breeders' Cup history after crossing the finish line comfortably in front aboard Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita in 2003.

"Turning for home, she put her ears up and . . . was kind of like, 'When are we going to start running?' " Krone told reporters afterward.

That marked the beginning of a splendid afternoon for Mandella, who says that Halfbridled was his only horse that was supposed to win that year, but it had drawn an unfavorable 14th post position.

"But as it turned out, Julie rode her like a maestro guiding an orchestra," Mandella recalls, wistfully. "And was it ever beautiful."


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