Trainer Jeff Mullins and owner Richard Englander say they are surprised by a California Horse Racing Board review into a victory by their filly Flyindownbaylaurel at Hollywood Park on May 21 and said the action is the result of Mullin's success on the Southern California circuit.
"The bottom line is there's a lot of jealousy around with regard to Jeff because he's doing so well," said Englander, the nation's leading owner in victories in 2002 with 279.
Through May 23, Mullins is tied for third in victories with eight wins from 12 starters at the current Hollywood Park meeting. He also has two seconds.
He was named the top trainer at this winter's Santa Anita meeting after finishing with 30 wins from 93 starters for earnings of nearly $1.9 million.
"The (CHRB investigators) have spent so much time in my barn over the last couple of days," said Mullins, "I almost wish they'd stay longer because that way I won't have to pay a night watchman."
As part of the inquiry, the trainer has been asked to appear before Hollywood Park stewards on May 29.
The CHRB announced in a formal press release May 23 that it is reviewing certain races "with significant form reversals." But it singled out only the second race at Hollywood on May 21, in which, it said, "a filly moved up tremendously to win at relatively low odds while stepping up in class." A CHRB spokesman said that of the incidents they had received complaints about, this race received the most.
Flyingdownbaylaurel, a California-bred chestnut 3-year-old by Alphabet Soup, was making her first start for her new connections after losing her four lifetime races by a combined 64 lengths for her trainer and co-owner Jerry Dutton. She was claimed following a 28 1/4-length trouncing against $32,000 maiden claimers on April 10.
When she returned nearly six weeks later, Mullins put her on the turf for the first time while stepping her up to the maiden special weight level, stretched her out from seven furlongs to a mile and added blinkers. Alex Solis took over as the rider, replacing Martin Pedroza.
Bet down from a morning line of 8-1, she won the race by a length in a slow time of 1:37 3/5 at odds of 7-2. She was listed at 2-1 by the Sweeps column in the Daily Racing Form and the publication's lead handicapper picked her to win, citing the weak field and Mullins' successful first-time claim statistics (29 percent winners and $2.51 ROI).
The trainer said he claimed the horse at Englander's insistence.
"He basically begged me and said if she's walking to go ahead and claim her. She was, obviously, and I did what my owner wanted me to do. And that was it," Mullins explained.
Englander added, "I can understand the CHRB's concern because of some of the other things that have been going on around the country. But they went after the wrong horse in this situation."
Englander, second among U.S. owners with 100 victories this year, said he and his three partners do an extensive study of pedigree profiles on all claiming horses, paying particular attention to first-time starters and potential turf runners. Flyingdownbaylaurel's lineage jumped off the page at him.
"Every Alphabet Soup horse has really taken to the turf," Englander said. "The dam (Flying Dyna) is by Dynaformer, and he does very well with turf runners, too. Her mom was a half to (1978 turf champion) Mac Diarmida."
"When I saw this mix, I was ready (to make the claim). I told Jeff, 'Don't look at the form. I told him, don't look at the odds, either, just go to the paddock and see how she looks.' He told me she was walking fine and seemed sound in body. And, oh, by the way, she's 37 to one.
"She would bring $150,000 in a sale. It was worth taking a shot. It isn't our fault if (her previous connections) didn't realize she belonged on the grass," Englander said.
He called it "one of the most satisfying claims I've had in a long time."
"He did a lot of corrective things with this horse," Englander said of Mullins. "He made her healthier and he made her feel better."
Mullins said, "Let me first say that I have the utmost respect for Jerry Dutton, but I put a lot of work into the filly. I took my time with her. First of all, she's bred to run on grass. Second of all, she's bred to route. Plus I put blinkers on her and not to take anything away from her or the other horses, but it was a terrible race."Margaret Ransom contributed to this story.