Influent has own agenda Gelding: The contentious 5-year-old from Canada, who has been known to give the field a head start before breaking from the gate, may have found a home on turf.

July 24, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Influent is fast. Influent is smart. But sometimes, like the bumper-sticker adage, Influent would rather be golfing.

"He's absolutely a pain in the butt," says his trainer, Katy Voss, a smile competing with a shake of her head. "If you say something's black, he'll say it's white."

A 5-year-old Canadian gelding who races today at Pimlico, Influent spoke loud and clear in his last start, July 6 at Laurel Park. After 18 adventurous races on dirt, of which he won three, he ran on grass, won by eight lengths and equaled the 31-year-old one-mile turf record of 1 minute, 34 seconds.

"He's very, very competitive," says Voss, whose horses at the recent Laurel meet finished in the money 58 percent of the time. "Unfortunately, he learned some bad habits before we got him."

For starters, Influent does not like to break from the gate, which puts him at about the same disadvantage as a ballplayer who refuses to step up to the plate. But Influent has good reason for his reluctance.

A son of Ascot Knight with a deep reserve of talent, Influent was considered a potential stakes horse by his Canadian connections. But as a 2- and 3-year-old training to race, he apparently suffered pain from a testicle that hadn't dropped.

He did everything he could to aggravate those who wanted him to run. In the afternoons he balked at having to go to the racetrack. Finally, when one race began, and all the other horses galloped off down the track, Influent stood there -- like a statue.

"He didn't come out of the gate, period. He did not participate in the race," Voss says. "He discovered that was his way out."

Voss learned all this when the horse's owner, the Canadian Austin Taylor, decided to send her eight head, including Influent. But first, Taylor employed a veterinarian to geld Influent and remove the bothersome testicle.

But still, Voss received a horse in late 1994 whom, she says, "has been a [head] case ever since." And he arrived with one glaring black mark, a past-performance line that read: Refused to break.

Her first task was convincing racing officials that Influent was a born-again breaker. One morning on the training track at Bowie, under the watchful eye of the official starter, an exercise rider coaxed Influent into the gate.

"We opened the door, and that sucker just stood there," Voss says.

She tried it with other horses.

"They'd gallop out, and he'd sit there and watch them. But then he'd break like a rocket," she says. "He'd give them a three- or four-length head start, and then blow by them."

That was progress.

Finally, in March of last year, Influent earned his chance again: a seven-furlong race at Laurel. Voss instructed the jockey, Mario Pino: "Sit in there and grab a hold of his mane. You don't know when he's going to break. But when he does, you'd better be tied on."

Voss watched with a mixture of excitement and dread.

"When they opened the gate," she says, "that horse's feet were planted. He gave them something like a 10-length head start. . . . That was his first time back. He had to make up his mind whether he wanted to do this or not."

Once Influent got into gear, he passed horses and finished third. Voss was encouraged, but then he caught a virus. He recovered and actually won a seven-furlong, $25,000 claiming race in his fourth start for Voss.

"He smoked 'em that day," she says. "That proved he had the talent we thought he had."

But again, bad luck combined with bad habits to undermine Influent. The horse knows no middle ground. He either refuses all together or gives all he's got. And then he runs too hard. His ankle swelled up, and he pulled a muscle in his hindquarters.

When he returned to racing he seemed uninterested. Voss finally transferred him from her barn at Bowie to her training and breeding farm in Howard County. She thought the change of scenery -- sunshine, green grass, gallops in the country and a pond where Influent swims several times a week -- might benefit the temperamental gelding.

It did wonders. He won his next race, then finished second, then third and finally, 2 1/2 weeks ago, tied the track record. He broke slow even then, got bumped, apparently got mad and then blew by the field like the powerful dark-bay runner Voss knew he could be.

She says she's not sure whether Influent loved the turf, or finally got his act together as a racehorse. Either way, he'll try again today in the eighth race at Pimlico, a 1 1/16-mile race on the grass.

"I have a reasonable comfort level that he's not going to stand in the gate," Voss says, laughing. "With all his other problems, we stopped worrying about that gate stuff a long time ago."

(Pimlico charts, entries, 10D)

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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