West side story Californians dominate Preakness field

May 15, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

Hey, dude, have you heard they moved the Preakness to Hollywood Park?

Or am I just California Dreamin'?

It's the "Surf's Up!" Preakness, the year Pimlico decided to have the race and imported the horses, trainers and jockeys from La-La Land.

Usually there is at least one hometown runner -- the Fighting Notions, I Am The Games or Harrimans -- from the local outfits.

But this year there's none, unless Forty Something, the last-place finisher in the Derby who now-and-again is bedded down at Laurel, suddenly surfaces.

We won't even be able to root for Andrea Seefeldt, the local jockey who rode Forty Something in the Derby.

In fact, there's only one East Coast runner, Strike the Gold, and until Hansel was a last-minute addition, no horse from mid-America.

It's the Beach Boys vs. Nick Zito, the Brooklyn-born trainer of "the Gold One," who's the lone representative from New York unless a long shot named Subordinated Debt drops in unexpectedly from Belmont Park.

Six of the eight horses, or three quarters of the field, are either California-based, California-bred, owned by Californians, trained by Californians or ridden by California jockeys.

"Kind of makes you think they're ganging up on old Nick," Zito quipped. "In fact, being from Brooklyn, I'm used to gangs."

It's not surprising to former Carroll Countian Rodney Rash, who decided 16 years ago to heed the advice of some prophet, or guidance counselor, who said, "Go west, young man."

Rash tied his fortune to the saddle leathers of Hall of Fame Charlie Whittingham, and now trains for such princes of Bel Air as Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and Magic Johnson.

"It just goes to show you, California is No. 1," Rash said. "Ther are some powerful people out there who love horse racing, and they have a lot of money. It's a 'live' sport, and we have beautiful racing all year long.

"Take my people [McNall, Gretzky, Johnson, etc.]. They will come to Kentucky, spend the money to buy a top horse like Honor Grades -- he is definitely a colt that has got some run in him -- and then take him back to California to race."

Rash believes the East is in decline. "I think it has something t do with Eastern racing being tied to the breeding farms," he said. "Some of these farms used to race their own stock. Now the industry is in trouble and they are selling their horses to the Saudis, the Japanese, the Californians."

Ron McAnally agrees. His horse, Olympio, was considered a top sprinter or miler in California over the winter. Now he could be the favorite at the classic mile and three-sixteenths distance of the Preakness, or at least second choice.

"The last several years, that's the way racing has been. You've seen the influence of California in the Triple Crown," he said. "The racing is good in California, the purses are good and, naturally, we've got a lot of good horses."

They also are proven horses, said Ian Jory, the trainer of California-bred Best Pal. The horses can prep for the classics in a natural progression of races at gradually increasing distances.

Jay Hovdey, California columnist for The Racing Times, agrees. "There's lots of options," he said. "Horses like Best Pal and Dinard go in the tough races." Horses like Mane Minister, Corporate Report and Whadjathink can start out in the lesser races. "They get the idea of winning and then can travel out of town," he said.

Jory thinks the East Coast needs to wake up.

"New York better come up with some [new] horses for the Belmont," he said. "Two horses, Lite Light and Green Alligator, are pointing for that race, and both of them are from California."

The bettors, he thinks, should stop being so single-minded. "Look at the price Farma Way [the 6-1 fourth choice] went off in the Pimlico Special," he said.

The weather is also a big factor in California's emerging dominance in the Triple Crown. "Where else can you go from January on and never miss a day of training?" Rash said.

"Also, look at the depth of our jockey colony. You've got 10 top riders like Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Laffit Pincay, Jorge Velasquez, Kent Desormeaux, etc., and you'd take any one of them. Then there's the next group like the Alex Solises, and they, too, can ride with anybody."

Wayne Lukas takes a less provincial approach. "Air travel being what it is, I don't look at horses coming from California or Kentucky or New York," he said. "They come from all over. There are so many opportunities. People calculate their chances and go where they think they can win."

He thinks it's "just a coincidence" there are so many California connections in this race.

Lukas added that he didn't go with a California rider. "I picked Pat Day [who campaigns in the Midwest], because he is the best jock available," he said.

Still, from looking at the Preakness lineup, it makes you think of the lyrics: "Doesn't matter where you've played before, California's a brand new game."

Trudy McCaffery, co-owner of Cal-based Mane Minister likes to quote Charlie Whittingham.

She repeated one of his favorite lines: "We don't race Indian ponies out here."

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