Derby-bound Brocco stars in Santa Anita

April 10, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

ARCADIA, Calif. -- The man who produced the celluloid Agent 007 now may have developed the marquee name for this year's Kentucky Derby.

Movie magnate Albert Broccoli, who bought the rights to the James Bond books and turned them into a string of box office hits, is headed with his own equine star and namesake, Brocco, to Louisville, Ky.

The 3-year-old colt, appearing calm and running without a bandage, stamped himself as the "Best of the West" yesterday when he waged a gutsy stretch battle and emerged a three-quarter-length victor over Tabasco Cat in the $500,000 Santa Anita Derby, the major West Coast prep for the Triple Crown classics, at Santa Anita Park. Strodes Creek, a lightly raced son of Halo, trained by Charlie Whittingham, finished third, followed by stablemate Numerous.

Brocco was the track's 4-5 favorite and paid $3.40 for a $2 win bet.

All of the first four finishers are expected to make their next start in the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

Broccoli, 85, who is in the process of making his 17th Bond movie, likened the victory to the impact of "Dr. No," his first Bond movie, on the opening night crowd at the London Palladium. "People actually were banging at the doors to get in," said Broccoli, who knew he had a hit on his hands. Yesterday, he was supported by a cane and was wearing running shoes and a bright red sweater under a tweed coat. He was accompanied by his wife, Dana.

He said Brocco is the best horse he has owned since he was introduced to the sport several decades ago by "an old friend, Alfred G. Vanderbilt."

Even though two of the four favorites, Valiant Nature and Soul Of The Matter, dropped out within 48 hours of posttime and two long shots also were scratched, the six-horse field proved a definitive test for the colt who has now won four of six career starts and is considered, along with East Coast hopeful Holy Bull, as one of the two main contenders for the Kentucky Derby.

Under a hand-ride by Gary Stevens, Brocco came from nearly 10 lengths off the pace set by early leader Fly 'n J. Bryan, gradually caught Tabasco Cat, who took the lead at the top of the stretch and drew ahead at the sixteenth pole. He appeared to be drawing off at the end although Tabasco Cat did not give up. The time for the 9 furlongs was 1 minute 48 1/5 seconds, 1 1/5 seconds slower than the stakes record set by Lucky Debonair in 1965, but a second faster than the time of last year's winner, Personal Hope, who finished fourth in the 1993 Kentucky Derby.

"I decided yesterday morning that I was going to ride this horse with a lot of confidence," Stevens said. "It was his first time going 1 1/8 miles, and I just wanted to make sure that he finished up running. I decided that I was going to let him lag back as far as he wanted and just kind of let him run his own race."

It was the first victory for Brocco since he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last fall. In the interim, he was upset by Valiant Nature in the Hollywood Futurity, then came back three months later in the San Felipe Stakes on a muddy track and was second to Soul Of The Matter. Both of the horses that have beaten him bypassed yesterday's race and will run in other preps in Kentucky. They are expected to face Brocco again in the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Randy Winick, who purchased the Florida-bred colt for Broccoli in a California Two-Year-Old-in-Training Sale last spring for $215,000, said that the horse's comeback attempt in the San Felipe was "a tough race on him on a deep, tiring track. But it gave us a chance to get where we are today. I wanted him to peak at this time, and he did. Now he has four weeks to recover and bounce back before the Kentucky Derby."

Winick said the only glitch in the horse's schedule during the winter occurred in mid-January when he came back "body sore after a half-mile workout. He is a precocious and anxious horse and went a little faster than I wanted him to. But it only lasted for three days, and after that he was fine. Then it rained, and I missed the San Rafael Stakes and went to the San Felipe instead."

Stevens added: "This is a horse that just continues to do the things that we've said about him from the word go. He's just a step above everybody else right now. I never had any doubt about him during today's race. But I will say that Tabasco Cat hung in there a little longer than I anticipated. When I went up and eyeballed Tabasco Cat, he kind of rebroke and made a horse race out of it until the sixteenth pole. Then I went ahead and asked my horse for his best. But I never did use the stick."

Pat Day, who rode Tabasco Cat, said "obviously both horses matured over the winter. My horse stayed in and fought hard to the wire and might be what he needed. I would think this race would set him up perfectly for Kentucky."

Day's comments were reiterated by D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of )) Tabasco Cat. "We wanted to win it, but the ultimate goal is still the first Saturday of May. We'll try him again later."

Whittingham said that he was encouraged by Strodes Creek, who was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Brocco. "It was a good race, although he ran a little green." Jockey Corey Black said the horse was unbalanced when he changed leads straightening for home. "But overall I was happy with the race."

Chris McCarron, on Numerous, the other Whittingham-trained horse, said his trip was "uneventful."

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