Hollywood Park Report: Dream Factory

Hollywood Park Report: Dream Factory
Photo: Benoit Photos
Grammarian, en route to victory in the Sunset Handicap.
Published in the July 27 issue of The Blood-Horse
Hollywood Park closed with a dream weekend. Trainer Chris Paasch and the owners of 2-year-old Crowned Dancer were dreaming about the World Thoroughbred Championships Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) after their colt's runaway win in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) July 20.

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela put the finishing touches on his dream comeback from drug addiction, punctuating his first Hollywood riding title in 11 years by winning seven races. His closing weekend's hot streak gave him 74 wins (see page 4092).

Australian native Lindsey Williams set his dreams on the other side of the globe, qualifying his gelding Grammarian for the Melbourne Cup (Aust-I) Nov. 5 with a shocking victory in the closing-day $250,000 Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) at 12 furlongs.

And there was a dream payoff on closing day's Pick Six as one winning ticket, keyed by Grammarian's $60 return, was worth $928,127.40.

A 4-year-old making just his fourth career start, Grammarian had only a debut maiden win at Kentucky Downs last September to his credit. In two defeats against allowance foes at Churchill Downs since, he had never raced beyond a distance of 1 1/16 miles. The $150,000 top prize for the Sunset upped Grammarian's lifetime earnings to $176,026.

He faced a field that included five graded or group stakes winners. His 34-year-old trainer, Kellyn Gorder, had never won a graded stakes. He said the whole point of coming to California from Kentucky was to give Grammarian a chance to capture a win or place in a major stakes, which would help fulfill owner Williams' fantasy.

"(He) had a dream," said Gorder, a Minnesotan who was a former employee of Jack Van Berg in the Midwest. "He always wanted to bring a horse back to Australia. After (Grammarian) broke his maiden, it has become more than a dream. He's had a lot of small injuries. But we knew we had a pretty good horse."

Williams, who has lived in the United States for 27 years and is now a U.S. citizen, would appear to be on his way to making his dream come true. Along with his wife, June, who co-owns their Pacific Heritage Farm in Kentucky, they plan to enter Grammarian in the two-mile Melbourne Cup, Australia's most famous race.

A former executive for Mattel Toys, Williams reported to horse owner John Amerman, Mattel's former chief executive officer. It was on Amerman's suggestion, he said, that he phoned jockey Brice Blanc to offer him the ride on Grammarian. Blanc, who had no agent at the time (he's teaming with Tommy Ball for the upcoming Del Mar meet), had guided Amerman's Happyanunoit to five stakes victories.

Blanc and Grammarian got the job done, just barely, in a final time of 2:26.59. Racing outside of pacesetting Slew the Red for most of the journey, which was run in dawdling splits of :24.55, :49.56, and 1:14.66, Grammarian took the lead in midstretch, and after gaining command, had just enough to outlast hard-charging Continental Red, who came from the far outside to miss by a head. Lord Flasheart, the 7-5 favorite in the field of seven, was another head back after saving ground and making a furious run from the rail.

They had to survive a long stewards' inquiry into the deep stretch run, when Blanc's left-handed whipping caused Grammarian to swerve into the path of Adminniestrator. Steward Pete Pederson said there was no question Grammarian impeded the fifth-place finisher, but because the incident occurred so close to the finish line, the stewards did not believe it "cost him a position."

"I got a little afraid. But I didn't see anybody there. He's pretty green and he shied from the whip," Blanc said of the homebred bay son of Definite Article and the English mare Leaping Water (by Sure Blade). "I should have corrected him a little more, but he's such a big, long-striding horse I was afraid if I really tried to correct him too much it would break my momentum."

Gary Stevens, riding Adminniestrator, said he was floated wide by the winner, but reserved further comment. "It's up to the stewards and it doesn't matter what I say," he said.

Blanc said the fact his connections want to take Grammarian to Melbourne gave him confidence in the horse's chances. Now he hopes they follow through.

"I would love to have that ride," he said. "It would be a great, great experience."

DANCER'S DREAMS

The first major West Coast juvenile race of the year was an impressive victory for Crowned Dancer, who romped to an easy two-length win in the $108,300 Hollywood Juvenile Championship at six furlongs.

The victory left his connections, co-owners Charles and Karen Cono and Eastern Sky Unlimited, and Crowned Dancer's trainer, Paasch, thinking about spending part of the fall in Chicago.

"It's time to dream," Paasch said in reference to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park.

Coming off a third-place finish in the Haggin Stakes at Hollywood June 16, Crowned Dancer, starting on the outside in a field of seven, faced Oberwald, the Haggin winner, as well as the highly-regarded Kafwain, the Bob Baffert-trained son of Cherokee Run who went off at even money.

Crowned Dancer, the 5-2 second choice with Alex Solis aboard, was a length ahead of his rival Oberwald, who was on the inside through early fractions of :22.59 and :45.22, before assuming the lead at the top of the stretch. Kafwain, who hesitated coming out of the gate, made a brief rally on the turn, but tired in the stretch to finish fourth.

Solis remained cool on Crowned Dancer before checking over his left shoulder in mid-stretch to make sure Oberwald was no longer a threat. Then he hit his mount a couple of times to pull clear of the fast-closing Outta Here, who was second, and Chief Planner in third. Oberwald was fifth. The winning time was 1:10.10.

A chestnut son of Tactical Advantage out of the Chief's Crown mare Caveat Apt, Crowned Dancer was a $225,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March sale of 2-year-olds in training. He wore blinkers for this first time to notch his second win in four starts, and Paasch said it made a huge difference. The victory pushed his career earnings to just over $122,000.

It is just the fourth Thoroughbred bought by the Conos, who formerly raced trotters in Southern California. The San Diego couple said they got into Thoroughred ownership after they met Paasch at Del Mar last year. They also own the 3-year-old colt Mighty David, a leading sprinter.

Paasch said Crowned Dancer ran a slight fever after his loss in the Haggin Stakes, in which he was the 3-10 favorite.

"I thought his last race was too bad to believe," Paasch said. "When he came back to work, my exercise boy said he seemed to be bored and was looking around a lot, so we tried blinkers. (That) really turned this horse around."

Victor Espinoza, aboard Kafwain for his Kentucky Derby-winning connections The Thoroughbred Corporation and Baffert, said the poor start was too much to overcome.

"We weren't ready in the starting gate, and I told one of the guys, but the gate opened anyway," said Espinoza. "There was nothing we could do. He made a good run. For a 2-year-old, it's hard to make a big move like that and not hang a little at the end. He'll be all right. I haven't lost any confidence in him at all."

(Chart, Equibase)

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