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HORSE RACING

Gary Player indulges his other sporting interest

The 74-year-old golfer, who owns a stud farm in South Africa, says he comes for Breeders' Cup festivities every year and 'All the best horses are here.'

November 06, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

Chatting with friends and well-wishers at Clocker's Corner on Thursday morning, just a short chip shot from Santa Anita's main track, was a familiar figure.

Gary Player the golfer was being Gary Player the horseman.

"I'm a horse nut, so I come and see this every year," Player, who turned 74 on Sunday, said of the Breeders' Cup, whose 14 races take place today and Saturday in Arcadia. "All the best horses are here."

Player knows a thing or two about thoroughbreds.

"I just bred the best filly in our country, Lady Windermere," he said. "That happens once in a lifetime. She's won two Grade 1 races already. So it's big thrill."

Player, winner of nine major golf championships, not to mention owner of a 20,000-acre spread, including a stud farm, in South Africa, was presented with a bit of crystal by the Breeders' Cup folk in honor of his sporting achievements.

He also was presented with a blunt reality check.

After Player told onlookers the owners of top horses have an obligation not to duck the Breeders' Cup, he ran into Chip Woolley, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.

"Practice what you preach," Woolley tersely told Player, noting Lady Windermere's absence from Arcadia.

Four legs or two

Woolley, a compelling figure at Churchill Downs last May when he hobbled about on crutches after a motorcycle accident, has cast aside the sticks.

"For a while anyway," he said. "We've got to have another surgery done. But in the meantime I get to walk, and it's like getting out of jail, it feels good. It's sore, but that's to be expected. But it's doing good."

And Mine That Bird, who runs in Saturday's $5-million Classic?

"He gets along better than me," Woolley said, "so I'm happy about that."

Marveling at mare

Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien was asked what he thought of the decision by owners Jerry and Ann Moss to run their unbeaten Zenyatta in the Classic instead of the Ladies Classic, which she won last year.

"I think it's a bad decision," O'Brien said. "I think she shouldn't be running. I think she should be running with the mares."

That was said with a straight face. Then came this: "No, I'm only kidding you," O'Brien said. "I wish she was in with the mares. It's a bad decision for me."

If Zenyatta were absent, O'Brien's Rip Van Winkle would be favored in the $5-million Breeders' Cup showpiece.

"It's great for the race," O'Brien said. "Obviously, when you have a horse of that caliber, you're always happy to be side-stepping them. That man [trainer John Shirreffs] has done a wonderful job with that mare."

Short reins

There's Lisa's Kitten, Kera's Kitten, Becky's Kitten and William's Kitten -- all of them running in one Breeders' Cup race or another and all of them owned by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. Pity poor race caller Trevor Denman, who has to remember which is which and to sort them out from Tenga Cat, El Gato Malo and Courageous Cat. . . . O'Brien has sent 27 horses to the post since last winning a Breeders' Cup race, with High Chaparral in 2003. "No one is more aware of that than we are," O'Brien said. "We've tried and we've had some near misses. That's the way it goes. You do your best every day and sometimes you make good decisions and sometimes you make bad decisions, and try to learn from the bad ones."

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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