California Cup, now an annual rite of autumn on the Southern California racing calendar, paraded forth for the 11th time on Oct. 28, as a jubilant Oak Tree crowd of 24,526 came out to catch the usual plateful of bright colors, beaming faces, and big races. What they walked away with was racing history.
With the all-time record for lifetime victories carefully tucked away in his pocket, Laffit Pincay Jr. refocused last winter and turned his attention to another unprecedented figure. It didn't take him very long to get it.
But Pincay simply didn't hit 9,000 wins. Suffused with the joy of his granddaughter Madelyn's first birthday, he smashed the barrier like a wrecking ball through a shack, capping his unforgettable October afternoon with a runaway victory--his record fifth stakes win of the day--aboard 11-1 Sky Jack in the centerpiece event, the $250,000 Wells Fargo Bank California Cup Classic.
Of Pincay's six Cal Cup mounts, Sky Jack appeared to be in the deepest waters. A 4-year-old Jaklin Klugman gelding bred and owned by Rene and Margie Lambert, he had shown enough in allowance and minor stakes company to warrant a second look. But he'd never faced the kind of line-up the nine-furlong Classic brought out. Among his rivals were last year's champ Bagshot and his promising stablemate Spacelink, Grey Memo, Cliquot, and Literal Prowler--all graded-stakes performers. Naturally, Sky Jack went out and turned the race upside down.
With a definite speed bias playing into the day's merriment, Pincay put Sky Jack right on the front end when the gates opened. Bagshot kept them company to the far turn before backing out, allowing Sky Jack to steal away for good. Clear by three turning for home, he was untouched the rest of the way, hitting the wire 4 1/2 lengths ahead in 1:49.03. Literal Prowler emerged from the vanquished to claim second, with another longshot, First Journey, two lengths back in third. Sky Jack comes from the barn of Doug O'Neill. CHA-CHING
If there was ever going to be a suitable horse to help Pincay cash in No. 9,000, it had to have a name like "Chi-chim!" Chichim has done her fair share of ringing the cash register throughout a productive sprint career for trainer Juan Garcia. Once available for a $20,000 claiming tag, the 5-year-old mare has made nearly $400,000 for owner Marianne Millard, who bred the daughter of Chimineas in partnership with her friend, the late Bea Rous.
But it took a bold stretch run for Chichim to take the Louis R. Rowan $150,000 California Cup Distaff Handicap and vault her rider into 9,000-country. Biding her time near the back as the field sprinted down the hillside turf, Chichim swung wide into the stretch, grabbed the lead passing the eighth pole, then held off both Dusty Heather and Cover Gal. The neck victory made her just the third horse ever to take back-to-back Cal Cup races (she took last year's Distaff by a length), joining Bel's Starlet and His Legacy.
Sandwiched between his Classic and Distaff triumphs, Pincay nailed down the day's other grass race, coaxing a big run from Road to Slew to win the $175,000 Ralph M. Scurfield California Cup Mile. Without War Chant to reckon with this time, the 5-year-old Slewpy gelding had little trouble dealing with defending Mile champ Native Desert, beating him by 1 1/2 lengths. Road to Slew went the distance in 1:34.58 for owner-breeder Nick Cafarchia and trainer Craig Dollase.
Pincay also bagged the Merial California Cup Distaff Starter Handicap with Russ Sarno's Shivareen Sky and the Kenneth M. Schiffer California Cup Starter Sprint Handicap with Heightenedawarenes. Both 4-year-olds are trained by Bill Spawr. STATE-MENTS
While Chichim was able to reclaim her Cal Cup laurels for yet another year, the rest of the day was unkind to last year's heroes. Before Bagshot and Native Desert both went down in defeat, Full Moon Madness scotched Love That Red's attempt for a title defense in the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint.
It's been a stellar season for Virginia Corey's son of Half a Year, a chestnut iron-horse with the fight of a bulldog. Off for nearly 17 months with a mysterious back-end injury, the 5-year-old gelding has roared back to life this year, pulling down a half-dozen stakes on both grass and dirt. In the six-furlong Sprint, Full Moon Madness shadowed Love That Red to the quarter pole, then simply outkicked the 7-10 favorite home to score by a half-length in 1:09.21. He is trained by Bob Marshall.
Later on, Feverish came back for another go at the $150,000 CTT/TOC California Cup Matron at 8 1/2 furlongs, but her bid for a repeat turned into nothing but a heartbreaker thanks to Gary Seidler's Queenie Belle, a 3-year-old Bertrando filly trained by Ben Cecil. The two hooked up heading into the far turn, and for the next three furlongs they ding-donged their way to the wire, finishing on virtually even terms. The margin was a nose, with Queenie Belle up in 1:42.93.
On a day when the oldest rider in the jocks' room stole the show, the most dominant equine performances actually went to a pair of youngsters. In the $125,000 Budweiser California Cup Juvenile, a packed field of 2-year-olds left the gate eager for shot at two turns. At the finish, however, it was all Proud Tower. A 2-year-old Proud Irish colt owned by Tricar Stable, Proud Tower grabbed the lead early and never looked back, shaking loose to romp by eight lengths. Jamaican Rum and Cintegrity dead-heated for second. Trained by Jose Silva, Proud Tower went 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.43.
Not to be outdone, Euro Empire returned from grade-I combat and laid the smack down on an unlucky bunch in the $125,000 XTRA Sports 690 AM California Cup Juvenile Fillies, also at 1 1/16 miles. The 2-year-old daughter of Bartok spent a good part of the summer trading blows with Notable Career, beating her on the square in a short sprint down at Del Mar. Notable Career went on to take the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) and rates a strong chance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
Euro Empire was an honest second in the Oak Leaf, and on Cal Cup day, her competition didn't know what hit 'em. Taking command near the three-eighths pole, she simply left everyone behind, matching Proud Tower's eight-length margin at the finish. Marcelo Polanco trains Euro Empire for 5C Racing Stable.