A STAR IS BORN
Imagine coaching on the same Lambeau Field sideline as Vince Lombardi, or having Gore Vidal as your English professor. Spending a better part of the '90's under the tutelage of Bill Mott inculcated in young Simon Bray immeasurable wisdom and the skills to make the art of training Thoroughbreds--a sometimes complicated matter--look easy. Sometimes it just came down to simple approach.

"If you can train a 2-year-old and a Theatrical," Bray once heard his mentor say, "you've got it covered."

Easier said than done. As the trainer of a cargo of Theatricals supplied by the breeding operation of Allen and Madeleine Paulson, Bray has developed an intimate understanding of Theatrical progeny. They seem to occupy every corner of his barn--and every moment of his time.

"They're real temperamental," he said. "You've got to handle them with kid gloves."

But then there's Startac, a big, easy-going bloke with a future as bright as his own name.

"He's an exception to the rule," Bray admitted. "I'm surprised."

Instantly dubbed the hottest 2-year-old turf horse out west after a nifty maiden win at Del Mar, Startac subsequently dropped a close one in his very next start. Somehow he got knocked off the radar altogether. The son of Theatrical roared back in a big way on Nov. 25 with an authoritative win in the $200,000 Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) at a mile.

While Broadway Moon (also by Theatrical) shot out and set a brisk pace, Startac, all but ignored at 8-1, found a sweet spot on the outside of the tracking swarm. Sweeping four-wide on the curve, Startac picked off Broadway Moon at the sixteenth pole, bursting clear to score by a length in 1:34.76.

Bray likens the colt to Astra, another of Theatrical's stars and the one who gave the trainer his first grade-I win last June. Not surprisingly, Startac will be carefully bundled up and tucked away till next year, with Bray looking long-range to next summer's marquee grass events for 3-year-olds.

"You hate to plan, but you've got to think Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT), those sort of lines, if that's the horse you've got," he explained. "My horse is huge. He's going to develop. He needs to fill out. He's massive. He's bigger than half my 3-year-olds right now."

Startac is owned by the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust.

EL EXPRESS

The paucity of sprint stakes on grass has rendered El Cielo an often overlooked entity on the local racing scene. He comes around about as often as the presidential election. Fortunately, he's much more reliable.

A son of El Prado owned by the partnership headed by Larry Carr, the Miller Trust, and the D and P Webber Trust, El Cielo is known in local circles as the titan of Santa Anita's hillside turf. Down the hill, no one does it better. But just when things really seem to get rolling--poof--he's gone.

"It's always worked out where he's always needed some time after those certain races," said trainer Craig Dollase, who treats El Cielo like Waterford crystal. "I get a good two or three out of him, then I've got to give him a break because he's had his problems along the way. But right now, being at the fresh age of seven coming up, really, he couldn't be doing better."

The 6-year-old gelding finally took his first shot at Hollywood's grass drag strip on Nov. 24 and meted his usual knockout blow, this time to Texas Glitter, in the $200,000 Hollywood Turf Express Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 5 1/2 furlongs.

The line-up was laden with speed, forcing El Cielo and Corey Nakatani to give up valuable ground early. Texas Glitter, surprisingly, managed to clear the entire bunch, and banking into the stretch with a two-length advantage, the Glitterman colt looked long gone.

Nakatani, however, had angled El Cielo to the rail entering the far turn--"That was the winning move right there," said Dollase- commencing an explosive kick that caught Texas Glitter just yards from the wire. The margin was a neck, while between them, Full Moon Madness was just a half-length back in third. El Cielo has now won 10 of 15 lifetime-- all sprinting.

"We might try to go long with him once maybe, if he's up to it," said Dollase. "But after that, we'll stick to what he does best. He's solid. He fires every time."

All you need to know about the $200,000 Miesque Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 2-year-old fillies on Nov. 24 is that Garrett Gomez made it back safe and sound.

It was the first collaboration for Gomez and Fantastic Filly, a French-bred newcomer to the Bobby Frankel stable, and for about 7 1/2 furlongs, she turned in a seamless run.

Her last sixteenth, however, leaves a lot of room for aesthetic improvement. After shredding through virtually the entire bunch, Fantastic Filly had the Miesque in the books by midstretch. Then she decided to stop. She propped. She swerved. She shook like Barry Sanders. Gomez, who used to ride bulls during his high school years, had enough instinct to stay on and keep her together long enough to cross the finish in one piece. At the end, they still won by1 1/2 lengths.

Owned by Agri-Harvest Inc., Fantastic Filly is a daughter of Myrakalu, best known as the innocent bystander who took up in early stretch of the 1994 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), resulting in the much-disputed disqualification of The Wicked North.
Fantastic Filly returned a hefty $43, which was nearly matched a day later by Charge d'Affaires, who outfooted favored Ladies Din to post a $31.80 upset in the $500,000 Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) at 8 1/2 furlongs.

A repeat winner of Aqueduct's Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIT) last month, Charge d'Affaires had an eye on Ladies Din throughout the Citation.

They raced as a pair to the final turn, when Kent Desormeaux sent Ladies Din outside for his bid. Jose Santos, however, sat tight, watched a hole spread between Asidero and Devine Wind, and dove through with Charge d'Affaires.

From there, it was a head-banger, with Charge d'Affaires prevailing by a comfortable nose in 1:40.30. Native Desert, beaten just a neck in last year's Citation, showed up late to grab third, a half-length behind Ladies Din. Christophe Clement trains the winner, a 5-year-old son of Kendor for Marquise de Moratalla.

(Chart, Equibase)

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