With a quarter of a mile to run in the $475,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), Gary Stevens was sitting on a half-ton of chestnut dynamite, staring at a mire of horseflesh directly ahead. The rail was a dead-end. The closers had shut off the outside. Precious momentum was clutched in his fingers. Timing would be key. Pressure? Naaahhh. At least not when you're atop Irish Prize. "When you ride a horse like him that's got as good a turn of foot as he does, it's easier not to panic," admitted Stevens, extolling the virtues of Sheikh Maktoum's homebred. "The hole opened just coming into the stretch, and he was through the hole in one stride. I mean, just BANG!" A split-second later, Irish Prize was clear and charging home like a mad bull. Better get used to the sight. The 5-year-old gelding has never been better, and his neck triumph over stablemate Touch of the Blues on May 28 took his game to brand new heights. Of course, he's always had a license to be something truly special. As a son of Irish River and the Lyphard mare Cadeaux d'Amie, Irish Prize is a full brother to champion mare Hatoof. Gelded upon his arrival in the barn of Neil Drysdale via France, he didn't wait long to signal his potential. "You remember those two races down at Del Mar. He won for fun," Drysdale said, adverting to a pair of wins in allowance company last summer, the latter of which was attained despite a heap of trouble. "I think when he won that race, that's when we realized that he was good." When Drysdale gave Stevens a leg up for the first time, in the nine-furlong Fastness Handicap (gr. IIIT) on May 13, the instructions were concise. "You want to have him up fairly close and handy," Stevens heard. "He's got a really short, sharp burst." The Fastness, as it turned out, developed like a dream for Irish Prize. Six furlongs at a snail's pace prompted Stevens to pull the trigger on the turn, and the response was golden. A breathtaking three-eighths in :34, including a final explosive furlong clocked in :11 2/5, left fans thrilled--and Stevens convinced. "They flew home the last sixteenth in the Fastness," he said. "And he didn't wind up. In two strides, he's at top speed. When I rode Exbourne, he was the same way. I could be three lengths behind four jumps from the wire, and he'd win by daylight when a hole would open. And that's how this horse is. It just gives you a lot of confidence." The Shoemaker Mile, however, unfolded in a totally different manner. Hollycombe bolted to the lead at the gun and cut out a solid :23.30 opener. All the Gears and Lake William gave heated chase, driving Hollycombe through a subsequent quarter in :22.31, which in essence sealed the fate of the first phalanx. Irish Prize had advanced steadily along the fence, with Spinelessjellyfish and Chris McCarron racing in lockstep to his outside. Opting for an outside attack, Stevens tried to maneuver Irish Prize off the rail approaching the far turn. McCarron, however, kept a hard line with Spinelessjellyfish, forcing Stevens to dip Irish Prize inside. For a few strides, Stevens was forced to idle. Just then, as they swept into the stretch, the pace took its toll on All the Gears. He staggered and lurched right, giving Stevens about the same view Moses saw when the Red Sea parted. In an instant, Irish Prize blew by Hollycombe and gunned for home. While Irish Prize had slipped through the tangle, Touch of the Blues, himself flying the white and blue of Sheikh Maktoum, had to corner widest of all. Mike Smith glanced left and saw Irish Prize stopped cold inside. His twinge of hope, however, became a sudden jolt of urgency. Touch of the Blues stormed into sight at the eighth pole and got a good sniff of the lead, but Irish Prize fought him off. Chased by the late-running Brahms, the Drysdale duo crossed the finish a neck apart in 1:33.68. Brahms was another neck back in third. A Happy Rider
The opportunity to hook up with a top-notch Thoroughbred can do wonders for a rider's self-esteem. For Brice Blanc, a chance to reunite with Happyanunoit was practically heaven sent. There was a time when Blanc and Happyanunoit were inseparable, and almost untouchable to boot. Things, however, started to unravel last summer. After the New Zealand-bred mare was upset by Snow Polina in Arlington's Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT), trainer Bobby Frankel, apparently dissatisfied with Blanc's ride, sought a new rider. For Blanc, it was a tough pill to swallow. "It was very disappointing because I really like her and she's very special to me," admitted Blanc, who says without a doubt that Happyanunoit is the best horse he's ever sat on. "But you never know. Life works in strange ways sometimes." Tender feet proved a costly hindrance to her fall campaign, leading owners John and Jerry Amerman to consider sending her off to a new career as a broodmare. Instead, the Amermans brushed the thought aside. Happy is now over her hoof issues--she's never felt better, according to Frankel. Blanc is aboard once again, brimming with ineffable confidence. Together, they were back at it on May 26, running down favored Tranquility Lake to win the $221,350 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) at nine furlongs. The Gamely set up perfectly for Happyanunoit. While stablemate High Walden kept Tranquility Lake company up front, Blanc kept an eye on them both from third, riding the rail with Happyanunoit. Tranquility Lake basically ignored High Walden altogether, and Eddie Delahoussaye got the typical response when the Rahy mare turned into the stretch. Blanc, however, never let Tranquility Lake steal off. With a furlong to run, Happyanunoit was a length back and bearing down on the outside. Relentlessly, she closed the gap, nailing Tranquility Lake in the closing yards to win by a head. Beautiful Noise was lapped to the outside just a half-length back in third. The nine furlongs were run in 1:47.34. "I'm telling you what, to come back after six months off and beat Tranquility Lake like she did, she's got to be doing pretty well," Blanc said. "She shows what kind of heart she's got, and she's all business."Chapman Double
It was a Memorial Day weekend Jim Chapman won't ever forget. The 29-year-old trainer pulled down a pair of big events on May 26-27, providing a glimpse of an upcoming showdown that is sure to have racing fans on the edge of their seats. The fireworks, of course, were provided by the sensational Caller One. Last seen blitzing the competition in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-III), the son of Phone Trick was on full-tilt yet again, wiping out five helpless rivals in the $107,300 Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III). Give Freespool credit for the :21.52 opening split. But by the time Caller One and Corey Nakatani rolled by on the curve, only the winning margin was in question. As it was, Caller One was a deceptive 2 1/2 lengths ahead at the finish. It was precisely the type of effort Chapman was looking for, and the 1:08.35 it took the 4-year-old gelding to dust off six furlongs was enough to get the blood boiling for the inevitable confrontation with Kona Gold. That, however, may not happen until fall. Chapman envisions just two starts for Caller One before they take a second shot at the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). While he waits for another crack at the reigning champ, Chapman will be plotting the course for Expected Program, a son of Valid Expectations who set a stakes record in the $78,750 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes. The 2-year-old colt outlasted favored Fonz's by a neck, racing five furlongs in :56.81. Up next will be the 5 1/2-furlong Haggin Stakes on June 17. Both Caller One and Expected Program are owned by Carolyn Chapman, the trainer's mother, and Theresa McArthur.