Trainer Dick Small and Valley Crossing head west tomorrow with some big expectations.
The 47-year-old trainer and 5-year-old horse are sharing a non-stop flight from New York to Los Angeles, the first plane ride for Valley Crossing. The destination: Del Mar and an attempt on Saturday to win the 10-furlong Pacific Classic.
In addition to Small, groom Pedro Mojaro and exercise rider Stacie Eggleton will be there.
Small is attempting to pull off another California coup. He upset Ferdinand and Snow Chief in 1987 with Broad Brush in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Both Small-trained horses are homebred products of owners Bob and Jane Meyerhoff.
If Valley Crossing wins, it will be the first victory in a $1 million race for a Maryland-bred since Safely Kept won the 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Valley Crossing is facing tough competition, including California's favorite son, Best Pal, the speedy Bertrando, Marquetry, Sir Beaufort and Missionary Ridge at level weights. Such foes are a big step up from the handicap conditions he beat Devil His Due under in the Grade I Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.
He received 10 pounds from the Pimlico Special winner in that race and won by a head after a string of 14 defeats.
Why is Small logging all these miles to face such a top-shelf field?
"We are second in the ACRS [American Championship Racing Series] and we almost have to go," Small said. "Even if we run second, we tie [leader] Devil His Due, and that could help us in the last [ACRS] race, the Woodward Stakes."
At stake is a $750,000 year-end bonus for the series winner. Devil His Due has 31 points, Valley Crossing 24. Even if Best Pal wins the Pacific Classic, which he did as a 3-year-old, it will bring his ACRS total to 20 points, still several points behind Valley Crossing.
Devil His Due is expected to bypass the race and run instead in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.
The 1 1/4 -mile Pacific Classic distance should suit Valley Crossing, although his best distance might be nine furlongs. Small says the horse is training well and is getting better as he matures.
Whatever the outcome of the Pacific Classic, expect to see a lot more of Valley Crossing. Even though the horse has earned more than $1 million, Meyerhoff plans to keep racing him next year at 6.
The Meyerhoffs are going to Del Mar for the race, then flying to Italy for a vacation.
Delaware's bizarre day
Last Wednesday was not a happy day at Delaware Park for at least two sets of owners and their horses.
Two horses won races, but never made it to the winner's circle. In both cases the runners were winning their first races, but died almost immediately after crossing the finish line.
The first horse, eerily named Final Seconds, won the sixth race by 12 1/2 lengths. But his trainer, Art Stauffer, said that about 10 yards from the finish, the horse broke his sesamoid. "His momentum kept him going past the wire until the jockey was able to pull him up," Stauffer said. The horse, who also broke another bone in his leg, was destroyed.
Then in the ninth race, another horse, Spanish Empire, a 6-year-old son of El Gran Senor, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack just moments after he crossed under the wire and won his first race. The horse was owned and trained by Gerald Rich, who shipped in a seven-horse string from Louisiana Downs earlier this summer for the Delaware meet.
Final Seconds, a 4-year-old Maryland-bred, received his name because just minutes after his dam, Think Metric, was covered by the stallion Winged T. several years ago, Winged T. dropped dead of a heart attack in his paddock at Thornmar Farm in Chestertown.
Former Olympic rider Frank Chapot is now breeding Think Metric to produce Grand Prix jumper prospects.
Well-known horse owner Bernard J. Daney, who raced Parfaitement in the 1983 Preakness, has been named the new chairman of the Delaware Racing Commission.
His appointment presents a unique connection between the Delaware and Maryland racing boards.
The new Delaware commissioner's son is married to a Maryland commissioner's daughter.
Daney's son, Michael, is married to the former Amy Hopkins, whose dad, J. Frank Hopkins, recently was appointed to a new four-year term on the Maryland racing panel.