All eyes on War Chant in San Rafael

Santa Anita stakes today 1st major test for colt many see as class of crop

March 04, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Neil Drysdale has never run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Yet Drysdale, a 52-year-old native of England, is considered one of this country's top trainers.

Based in Southern California, he has trained five Eclipse Award winners, including A.P. Indy, the colt who nearly took Drysdale to the 1992 Derby. Drysdale scratched him the morning of the race because of lameness. A.P. Indy recovered to win that year's Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic. He was voted Horse of the Year.

Today, Drysdale unveils the horse some handicappers say may be the most talented 3-year-old in America. The colt is War Chant, a name that rivals Assault, Citation and Seattle Slew in conjuring up Triple Crown dreams.

But for War Chant, a dark-brown son of Danzig, the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita Park will be his first major test. He has never run in a stakes. He has raced only twice, once at Hollywood Park late last year and once in January at Santa Anita. He won both times, impressively.

The one-mile San Rafael will be War Chant's first race in seven weeks. That wasn't Drysdale's intention, but heavy rains in California compromised the colt's training. Not known for pushing young horses, Drysdale chose the cautious route again.

Speaking by telephone from his Hollywood Park barn, Drysdale said he's as eager as the rest of the racing world to see War Chant run. Drysdale also trains another lightly raced but highly regarded Derby hopeful, Fusaichi Pegasus.

"They haven't done much yet," Drysdale said. "They've displayed ability. They still have to prove it. That's why we're doing this, to find out."

Fusaichi Pegasus, a $4 million yearling, has raced once more than War Chant. The expensive colt, a son of Mr. Prospector, has won two of three races, but like his stablemate has not competed in a stakes.

His chance will come in two weeks in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. After that, Drysdale said, Fusaichi Pegasus may run in the Gotham at Aqueduct.

As for War Chant, his likely next race would be the Santa Anita Derby, the annual showcase of the best Derby contenders in the West. That could be the most titillating Kentucky Derby prep of the season, because it will, if all goes according to plan, feature the filly Surfside in her first race against males.

D. Wayne Lukas, her trainer, has already said she's his No. 1 Derby prospect. Her jockey, Pat Day, chimed in this week with his endorsement.

"I can't say enough about her," Day said.

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