`Sweet' 5th in California

`Bay' defies odds in win

April 10, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. - Sweet Catomine, a charismatic filly running for a berth in the Kentucky Derby, failed her first test against males, finishing fifth as the even-money favorite in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby yesterday at Santa Anita Park.

Buzzards Bay, a 30-1 long shot, won by a half-length, presenting his controversial trainer, Jeff Mullins, his third straight victory in the Santa Anita Derby. Mullins, a California trainer, inflamed emotions last month when, under persistent questioning from a confrontational Los Angeles Times columnist, said that people who bet on horse racing are "idiots."

Marty Wygod, owner of Sweet Catomine, raised eyebrows with comments of his own after the race. He said Sweet Catomine had encountered various problems in the preceding days.

He said she had bled from the lungs during her last workout and that, on Wednesday, three days before the race, she had not only developed foot troubles, but also had come into heat. On that day, Wygod said, he was 50-50 to scratch her.

Asked why he didn't disclose that to the public, Wygod said he would have, but nobody asked.

While Wygod spoke to a large group of reporters in the press box, Julio Canani, Sweet Catomine's trainer, spoke to three reporters outside the jockeys' room. Contradicting Wygod, Canani said that coming into the race Sweet Catomine "was doing great and everything, you know."

Of her defeat, he said: "Once in a while a horse doesn't fire. Champions sometimes get beat. That's horse racing. ... She may come out of it with something. You never know."

Sweet Catomine had dominated the pre-race publicity. She had won five straight stakes races, including three Grade I's - all against fillies. She was attempting to become the fourth filly to win the Santa Anita Derby and, if successful, would have then tried to become the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby.

Meanwhile, hardly a word had been written about Buzzards Bay, one of several horses in the race seemingly out of their league. He had won two of seven races and finished 10th in a minor stakes, the Risen Star, at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

When the gates opened before a crowd of 38,014, Buzzards Bay and his jockey, Mark Guidry, hustled from Post 9 into the first turn outside Customer, an even longer shot at 77-1, and General John B, another outsider at 64-1. Those three raced side by side around the turn, down the backstretch and into the far turn.

Sweet Catomine and her rider, Corey Nakatani, followed the leaders in what appeared to be perfect position on the rail. Then, around the final turn, Customer dropped back, Wilko unleashed his bid widest of all and Sweet Catomine lifted off the rail as if to mount her charge.

But Sweet Catomine failed to advance. Nakatani said later she hadn't seemed herself, even in the warm-ups. She was dull and hardly interested in racing, Nakatani said.

Buzzards Bay and General John B galloped on toward the wire, forcing bettors to glance at their programs to identify the two surprising leaders. Wilko, who had battled hoof problems since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, looked briefly like a winner before tiring in the final 100 yards.

Buzzards Bay crossed under the wire in 1 minute, 49.18 seconds for the 1 1/8 miles. A Florida-bred son of Marco Bay, he paid $62.20 to win. General John B finished a half-length behind Buzzards Bay but a nose ahead of Wilko. Roger Stein, trainer of General John B, is well-known in California as the former host for 13 years of a local radio show about racing.

The exacta of long shots paid $1,502.80. The trifecta with Wilko third - he was the 7-2 co-second-choice with Giacomo - returned $13,271. Giacomo finished fourth and the superfecta paid $27,460.20 for a $1 bet.

Completing the order of finish were Sweet Catomine, Don't Get Mad, Go Coyote Joe, Wannawinemall, A. P. Arrow, Allright and Customer.

Mullins, trainer of Buzzards Bay, was subdued after the race despite becoming the first trainer to win California's signature event for 3-year-olds three years in a row. He won with long shot Castledale last year and Buddy Gil the year before.

He was particularly gratified by this victory, he said in a post-race interview, "and I think you all know why."

Mullins was penalized earlier this year for alleging administering an illegal concoction of drugs known as a "milkshake" to a horse. While his horses were scrutinized before races for 45 days - 30 days in a detention barn, 15 days in his own barn - his winning percentage dropped from .280 to .170.

As that unfolded, Mullins, in a heated exchange with the local columnist, uttered his "idiots" comment. He later apologized.

Yesterday, he said of what he considered his redeeming victory: "We got the money. That's all I care about."

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