Bold and Daring

When Golden Souvenir, a maiden, romped home by four lengths Aug. 1in the final leg of the Pick Six to ignite the biggest payoff in California horse racing history, the winner's circle at Del Mar, "where the Turf meets the surf," suddenly was engulfed in a tidal wave of humanity celebrating the $2,100,117 bonanza.

"I've never seen so many happy people crowded into one place," said a dazed Betty Mabee, mistress of Golden Eagle Farm, who was caught in the eye of the perfect storm. "They were cheering and hugging each other and crying for joy. And they kept thanking me for owning the horse. It was wild."

"They," of course, were Scott Guenther and his three buddies who held the winning ticket, plus members of their entourage, plus, one suspects, a throng of would-be friends hoping to crash the party and possibly share in the proceeds.

"It was pretty bold and daring" to single a maiden to anchor his bet, Guenther later acknowledged. Yet it was a gamble the late John Mabee--who with wife Betty bred Golden Souvenir--would have appreciated and applauded. After all, Mabee himself had been bold and daring six years ago when he sent nearly 100 of his best mares to the court of Golden Souvenir's then unheralded and unproven freshman sire, Souvenir Copy.

That gamble, too, paid off. To date, Souvenir Copy has sired 101 winners from three crops to race, including four stakes winners and six stakes-placed runners, with total earnings of more than $5 million. Currently, he is sixth on the list of leading third-crop sires, ahead of Awesome Again, Skip Away, Indian Charlie, Stormy Atlantic, and numerous other big names, and behind only Elusive Quality, Grand Slam, Tale of the Cat, Wild Rush, and Distorted Humor.

Interviewed by this writer at the outset of his experiment, John Mabee--thrice winner of the Eclipse Award for outstanding breeder in North America--had said of his homebred: "I've always believed only one in 10 freshmen sires makes it to the top. If you pick and choose carefully, and use the right blood, you can cut the odds to about one in three or four. Souvenir Copy has the right blood."

A multiple graded stakes winner when he raced in the Mabee colors, Souvenir Copy is one of five full siblings by Mr. Prospector out of the Nureyev mare Dancing Tribute whose combined earnings total more than $2.5 million. And in that pedigree lies the reason Souvenir Copy recently came home to California from Kentucky, where he had stood to help the Mabees' lifelong friend and protégé, Rick Trontz, get established at Hopewell Farm near Midway.

"We've been top-heavy with Seattle Slews in our stallion barn," says Betty Mabee, who with her son, Larry, has been restructuring the operation at Golden Eagle Farm near Ramona in San Diego County since the death of her husband in 2002. "We shopped around, but when we couldn't complete a deal for a quality Mr. Prospector, we decided to bring 'Copy home. When he stepped from the van, he looked around, took several deep breaths, and seemed to say, 'Glad to be back.' "

In recent months, mother and son, in concert with business manager Janine McCullough, have sold one of the 'Slews (the popular stallion Avenue of Flags, broodmare sire of the Pick Six hero). They've dispersed scores of mares that were overflowing paddocks and balance sheets. They've opened the farm to boarders and lay-ups. At Keeneland they bought eight classy broodmares, including the $800,000 purchase of South American champion La Galerie, by Southern Halo, to further diversify the "good blood" in their breeding program.

With 3-year-old fillies Yearly Report and Western Hemisphere recent winners on the national stakes scene, the farm's racing division once again is making waves.

Meanwhile, at Hopewell, Trontz has been making waves of his own, adding Volponi, Najran, Crafty Friend, and David Copperfield to his growing stallion roster headed by new Hall of Fame inductee Skip Away. Of Souvenir Copy's departure, Trontz told me:

"He's a lovely horse, and I hated to lose him. He'll be great for the California market."

Bold and daring handicappers of the Golden State, take note.

Retired newspaperman MORTON CATHRO writes about California racing past and present.