The slowing of Valiant Nature

April 06, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

ARCADIA, Calif. -- The slower Valiant Nature works, the better Ron McAnally likes it.

The Hall of Fame trainer might be readying his horse for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, but he has his sights set on Kentucky.

McAnally has had his eye on recent East-Coast derby preps and is figuring out how to avoid a speed duel with horses like Holy Bull, winner of the Florida Derby, and Polar Expedition, the Jim Beam victor, on the first Saturday in May.

"Holy Bull is impressive. As he and the Jim Beam winner showed, speed is always dangerous," he said. Holy Bull won the Florida Derby by 5 3/4 lengths.

McAnally thinks Valiant Nature is intelligent enough to change from a confirmed front-runner, who achieved his two career victories out of four starts by out-sprinting the field, into a more relaxed and tractable animal.

He plans to unveil the "new" Valiant Nature on Saturday, allowing Fly'n J. Bryan and Tabasco Cat to set the pace in the expected nine-horse field. The race, the most competitive of all the Kentucky Derby preps this year, also includes Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Brocco; San Felipe Stakes winner, Soul Of The Matter; the Charlie Whittingham pair of Strodes Creek and Numerous; and long shots Robannier and Pollock's Luck.

How will he do it?

"Slow down his works and keep Laffit Pincay on him. That's his [Pincay's] specialty, getting a horse to rate," McAnally said yesterday outside his barn at Santa Anita Park.

Pincay has won seven Santa Anita Derbies, including one for McAnally in 1976 with An Act.

The past couple years, McAnally has been in the Triple Crown fray by buying so-called "million-dollar busts" for Jenny Craig, the high priestess of dieting.

First there was Dr Devious, the $2-million English import that finished seventh for Craig and her husband, Sid, in the 1992 Kentucky Derby. Last year, Craig purchased Tossofthecoin about a week before the race and watched him finish 19th out of 19. Even worse was Arinthod in the Belmont. Another last-minute Craig purchase, the French colt was eased on a muddy track.

McAnally said the Craigs tried "to do it their way" again this year, buying an English colt named Fumo diLondro from the barn of British trainer John Dunlop in December. The colt's name in Italian means "London Fog," and he seems to run as if he is in one. The horse finished last in the San Rafael Stakes March 6 and is being retained for a grass-racing career. That leaves Craig pretty much out of the Triple Crown picture.

"She has indicated she doesn't plan to buy another horse right before the race because the prices go up so high," he said.

But McAnally is firmly in the running with Valiant Nature, a three-generation home-bred owned by 78-year-old Verne H. Winchell, one of McAnally's long-time clients.

Winchell opened his first Winchell's Donut Shop 46 years ago in Temple City, Calif. He took his company public in 1961, merged with the Denny's restaurant chain in 1967 and retired in 1980 as head of Denny's, Inc.

More than 30 years ago, McAnally was preparing Donut King for Winchell's first assault on the Kentucky Derby. "The horse won a couple of races in New York [and was third in the 1961 Wood Memorial]," McAnally recalled. "But he bruised his foot right before the Derby and had to be scratched."

Twenty years later, Winchell started Classic Go Go, who was trained by Jerry Meyer, in the Derby, and finished fourth. Classic Go Go is a half-brother to Valiant Nature's dam and is at stud at Winchell's Oakwind Farm in Kentucky.

Distance-running ability should be no problem for Valiant Nature, either in the 9-furlong Santa Anita race or the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby. He is a brother to Tight Spot, the 1991 national grass champion who won eight straight turf races, including the Arlington Million.

Valiant Nature rose to prominence when he defeated Brocco in the Hollywood Futurity.

"When we left the paddock [for the race], his odds were 30-1 and I thought, 'How sweet it is,' " McAnally said. By post time, the horse dropped to 16-1 odds. "People must have thought he was just a grass horse, because he had broken his maiden on the turf. But obviously, he can run on the dirt, too."

McAnally gave the horse a couple of months off, and he returned against Brocco three weeks ago in the San Felipe Stakes. Lightly regarded Soul Of The Matter upset both horses on a muddy track, beating Brocco by 2 1/4 lengths. Valiant Nature was third, a head behind Brocco.

McAnally throws out the San Felipe effort.

"The track was so bad that no horse should have run on it," he said. "We came very close to not running him. But if we were to go in the Santa Anita Derby, we had to start. There was no other place to run."

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