You get the feeling that Peruvian jockey Rafael Bejarano hasn't fully grasped the part he is about to play in the Hirsch-Stute family day at the Kentucky Derby.
Bejarano, a 26-year-old on a merry-go-round of success, knows he will ride Papa Clem for owner Bo Hirsch and trainer Gary Stute on May 2. He knows the big race that takes place in front of the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May is a moment of history to be grabbed and clung to.
"It is the dream of every jockey in that room to win the Derby," Bejarano says, relaxing between races on a quiet Hollywood Park opening day Wednesday that drew a meager 4,043. "Before I die, before I retire, I want to smell those roses at the Kentucky Derby."
Bejarano is a busy man. There is little time to reflect, to ponder history and his possible part in it.
He won all the major riding titles last year in Southern California -- Santa Anita winter, Hollywood Park spring/summer, Del Mar, Oak Tree and Hollywood Park autumn. Then he took the big trophy again at Santa Anita in the meeting that ended Sunday.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, April 24, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Horse racing: An article on Hollywood Park's opening day of racing in Thursday's Sports section misspelled the name of Figonero, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1969, as Figonera. Also, an article previewing the Hollywood Park meeting in Wednesday's Sports section referred to the Hollywood Gold Cup as the Hollywood Golf Cup.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Dwyre column: In Thursday's Sports section, Bill Dwyre's column on horse racing said that in 1993, Magical Maiden won the Oak Tree Invitational. Magical Maiden won the Chula Vista Handicap at Del Mar that year; Kotashaan won the Oak Tree race. Both races are now named for Clement Hirsch.
Wednesday, he got a perfect trip out of Union Avenue to win the third race at Hollywood Park and then handled Backbackbackgone expertly along the rail for a 2 1/2 -length victory in the featured $73,450 Henson Stakes.
Bejarano is so in demand that Saturday, on the 10-race California Gold Rush program, he will have a mount in all 10 races.
So it might not be until late Sunday, when he climbs on a plane for Louisville, that he can read some old newspaper clippings and better understand the quality family time he is about to have.
He will learn that, before the man he calls Mr. Hirsch, Bo Hirsch had a father named Clement, who made millions in the pet food business and fell in love with thoroughbred racing. Clement Hirsch had three wives, one of whom later married Desi Arnaz, and several successful racehorses. One, Figonera, won the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1969. Another, Magical Maiden, also won graded races and is the grandmother of Papa Clem.
Years ago, when the Southern California racing schedule was more in flux, Clement Hirsch saw an opportunity to bring another thoroughbred meeting to Santa Anita in the fall. He succeeded and became the godfather of what is now the Oak Tree meeting. A major turf race at Oak Tree, won by Magical Maiden in 1993, was named for him in 2000.
For years, Warren Stute trained Clement Hirsch's horses, including Figonera and Magical Maiden. Hirsch died in 2000, and left in his will a $1-million grant for the use of Warren and his wife, Trudy, until they are gone. Warren died in 2007, Trudy is still alive. When she dies, what is left goes back to the Hirsch foundation.
Bo Hirsch bred Papa Clem, as well as owning and racing him. Clement had six children and six grandchildren, and when the grandchildren were little and had trouble pronouncing "Grandfather" and "Clement," he became Papa Clem. And so, a Kentucky Derby horse was named.
Warren Stute's brother is Mel Stute, who is still training into his early 80s. Mel Stute has had two horses in the Kentucky Derby -- Bold 'n Ruling in 1980 and Snow Chief in 1986. Snow Chief was one of the favorites in the Derby, but ran poorly and didn't show his true colors until the Preakness, which he won.
Gary Stute, Mel's son and Warren's nephew, flew in just for the day in '86. But he was there preceding the '80 race, because the owner of Bold 'n Ruling was his geometry teacher at Glendora High.
Now, Gary Stute, 52, is in Louisville for a third time for the Derby, this time in the trainer's chair, with Bo Hirsch set to arrive early next week, as a well as Gary's parents.
"I remember being here before and really liking it, because I didn't have to do much," Gary Stute says. "Now, I've got lots of arranging. It's more fun being a passenger than the pilot."
Papa Clem wasn't a sure bet for the Kentucky Derby until he won the $1-million Arkansas Derby April 11. He went in as the second favorite and surged past Old Fashioned in the stretch.
Stute says the Kentucky Derby was in their sights well before that, and Bo Hirsch was preparing just like his father would have.
"When you were around Clement, you knew you were around class," Stute says. "And it's the same with Bo. Well before the Arkansas Derby, Bo was asking me things like, should we fly in the wife of the horse's groom -- stuff like that."
Stute says his relationship with Bo Hirsch "couldn't be better." You'd expect nothing less with family.
Bejarano better be prepared to be offered adoption papers.