ARCADIA, Calif. -- Composer Burt Bacharach has won three Academy Awards and numerous Grammys, so it may be hard to believe his songwriting career was interrupted by a horse.
But in 1983, he was obsessed by his filly Heartlight No. One.
"I was caught up in her career," Bacharach said. "Too caught up in it, and I quit writing music for four or five months. Every time she ran she was 1-5 or 1-6 [odds], and there was a lot of pressure."
Eleven years later, Soul Of The Matter suddenly has a chance of bringing the songwriter a new thrill: an entry in the Kentucky Derby.
But first, the 3-year-old colt with strong local as well as Hollywood connections must prove on Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby that his surprising victory over the top West Coast colts Brocco and Valiant Nature in the San Felipe Stakes a few weeks ago was not a fluke.
"Some people say he won the race because the track was muddy or that the other two horses needed the race," said Bacharach's trainer, Dick Mandella. "Me, I tend to believe it's because he's a top horse. But nobody knows for sure until he meets them Saturday on a fast track."
With Soul Of The Matter, Bacharach is bit more matter of fact.
"I feel with this colt that I'm just his custodian, and that matters are out of my control," Bacharach said. "I'm continuing to write music. I'm working on a new musical and songs for about three different albums, including one for Earth, Wind and Fire."
Soul Of The Matter, a near-black colt sired by Maryland stallion Private Terms, is described by Mandella as "light-framed. Not real big. Not awesome-looking. But he's a graceful mover, has a good mind and moves like a ballet dancer. He has gone through all the stages like he should [winning three of his five career starts]."
The horse survived a minor foot injury about six weeks ago when he developed a quarter crack, which Mandella said is no longer a problem, although the horse still wears a patch on the inside of his left front foot. To protect the foot, Mandella has worked the horse mostly on grass, although he moved to dirt yesterday. There was an additional scare last weekend when some filling showed up in a hind ankle after a workout on grass.
"But it was gone overnight. As a precaution I took him over [to the track vet clinic] and X-rays showed he's completely clean. But the rumors started to fly," Mandella said.
Yesterday, the horse moved effortlessly in his final tuneup for the Santa Anita Derby, pricking his ears as he moved by work mate Wildly Joyous after a half-mile blowout.
Bacharach, 65, is described as "a lifer" in the horse business, an owner who has been in the game a long time and intends to stay in it.
Bacharach didn't get into the horse business until after he reached his 30s. He had collaborated with lyricist Hal David to turn out a bunch of hits, many sung by Dionne Warwick, such as "Walk On By", "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," and "I Say A Little Prayer," that became pop classics.
He bought his first horse, Battle Royal, about 1968 after "my business manager [Fred Braunstein] allowed me to," Bacharach said.
He hired Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham as his first trainer. Then, after writing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," he moved on to other trainers. At the time he made a lasting connection with East Coast horseman Vincent Moscarelli through Braunstein, who owned a small thoroughbred breeding farm in Charles Town, W.Va., that was managed by Moscarelli and his wife, Suzanne.
At the Moscarellis' farm, Bacharach bred the filly, Heartlight No. One, who was sired by Maryland stallion, Rock Talk. The filly was trained in California by Pedro Marti and became a national champion in 1983.
"[In the mid-1980s] I broke up with Braunstein," Bacharach said. "As part of the settlement in the lawsuit, I got the farm in West Virginia and Vinnie and Suzanne [to work for him]."
Bacharach, who lives in Santa Monica, continued the association with the Moscarellis, which accounts for the unusual California-West Virginia-Maryland horse breeding and raising pattern of Bacharach's runners.
Bacharach said that after a recent concert in Louisville, Ky., the vTC state's governor, Brereton Jones, came backstage and invited him to the Kentucky Derby as his guest.
"I have never been to the Kentucky Derby before," Bacharach said. "I have thought about going in the past, but never did and called him back later and accepted his invitation.
"Then after Soul Of The Matter won the San Felipe, I called, told him again that I'm coming, but I said I might be bringing a four-legged friend with me."