'Pistols' draws a bead on Florida Derby field

March 12, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- George Gianos is thinking of skipping the press breakfast and post-position draw for the Florida Derby this morning.

"I'll be in jeans. I spend all morning in the stalls with my horses. And sometimes I don't shave," the 32-year-old trainer said.

He describes himself as no D. Wayne Lukas, the master PR man who trains Dance Floor -- owned by rap star Hammer -- the horse expected to be the 6-5 or 7-5 favorite when the morning line is announced today.

Outside of Florida, no one has heard much of Gianos, who like his horse, Pistols And Roses, is low-key.

The gray, lop-eared, Florida-bred colt has won five races, earned $446,046 and swept the Bahamas, Everglades and Flamingo stakes at Hialeah.

But he's never been favored in any of his eight career races.

And the colt definitely comes from humble beginnings.

Gianos swears this is true:

One of his owners, semiretired Boston businessman Sheldon Willis, lives near the track at Golden Beach.

He came out regularly to see what at the time was his only horse, stakes winner J.W.'s Wild Card, train.

But one morning Willis, 64, drove to the wrong stable. "He ended up walking down the shed row at [trainer] Happy Alter's barn and was too embarrassed to admit he made a mistake. So he fudged it and asked Happy if he had any horses for sale."

Alter showed him three 2-year-olds.

"I looked at them," Gianos recalled, "and liked Pistols And Roses. Only one thing. We had him inspected by a veterinarian and it turned out he had an entrapped epiglottis [breathing malfunction]. This requires an operation, which is sometimes successful, sometimes not."

Willis decided to take the gamble.

He bought the colt for $25,000.

Six weeks, and one operation later, Pistols And Roses, named after heavy metal group Guns'n Roses, won his first start at Calder Race Course.

He didn't develop into stakes material until the Hialeah meeting when he began racing on Lasix. Pistols And Roses then won two stakes at nine furlongs, the Florida Derby distance.

"The Willis family -- and there are about 20 members in this extended group -- set an attendance record for the winner's circle every time the horse wins," Gianos said.

Pistols And Roses will be the second choice in the expected 12-horse Florida Derby lineup. He finished third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, but was moved up to second behind Dance Floor, after runner-up Careful Gesture was disqualified.

"My horse had not run in seven weeks," Gianos said. "He was carried wide by Vying Victor most of the way, and just got tired in the stretch.

"I have been pointing for this race since the Flamingo. The colt is doing sensational, much more settled now than before the Fountain of Youth."

Gianos finished third in the 1984 Florida Derby with Darn That Alarm, the sire of Pistols And Roses, and in 1989 with Big Stanley.

He has trained horses like Shocker T., who earned more than $1 million and won the Delaware Handicap, in one of Gianos' infrequent excursions outside Florida. Another one of his runners, Seaquay, has earned more than $700,000.

Gianos knows how to train a good horse, whether or not he's glib at press briefings.

"I'm not worried about Dance Floor," he said. "If you spend too much time worrying about someone else's horse, you lose perspective on your own animal.

"I remember in 1989, the owner of Big Stanley had me run his colt in the Arkansas Derby just to avoid a horse in Florida at that time named Dixieland Brass. What happened? Dixieland Brass broke down before he ran in the Flamingo Stakes, our former objective, and we were in Hot Springs, 1,500 miles away."

NOTES: Rap star Hammer will be at the Florida Derby along with his father, Lewis Burrell Sr., and his two brothers. He has reserved space in the press box for two people from his public relations staff. . . . Maryland trainer Barclay Tagg finished second yesterday in the Sweetest Chant Stakes with Favored Lady, and then won the last race with Highland Crystal. . . . Scott Savin, who syndicated his good runner Norquestor in Maryland and stands him at Murmur Farm in Darlington, has the likely third choice in the Florida Derby. The horse is a lightly raced colt named Technology and is trained by Sonny Hine.

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