Published in the Dec. 7 issue of The Blood-Horse
Two years ago, having just purchased a Chilean-bred colt, John Amerman journeyed to Santiago to watch his acquisition run. Lido Palace won the St. Leger (Chile-I) that day, and Amerman, eyeing the raucous crowd and foreign surroundings, had doubts whether he would be able to safely take his leave after being presented with an oversize check for nearly $400,000. There were no such concerns after the $457,200 Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs Nov. 29. Though the surroundings were quite different, one constant remains over these two years--Lido Palace is one tough son of a gun no matter the continent or circumstances. Make no mistake--he is not the most handsome horse in the paddock. His pedigree is "Who's he by--Never heard of her" (and thank goodness for that, because this horse is a joy to watch race). All Lido Palace does is dig in during crunch time and run his heart out, piling up 11 triumphs in 23 starts. He's honest as an ATM machine, and dispenses money to his owners with as much frequency. Bred by Haras Figuron, Lido Palace wasn't even the object of his owner's initial attention. Amerman and his wife, Jerry, were about to purchase the filly Printemps in Chile, and sent veterinarian Steve Buttgenbach down to check her out. The vet came back and said, "That's a nice filly, but you've got to look at the colt in the next barn." They've been watching him ever since--watched him win the Woodward Stakes and Whitney Handicap (both gr. I) last year and repeat in this year's Woodward; watched a pair of runner-up efforts in the last two Suburban Handicaps (gr. II). And following his $283,464 Clark payday, they've watched his earnings mount to $2,705,865. A field of 11 contested the nine-furlong Clark, the final major dirt test for open company before the calendar turns. Lido Palace, the most accomplished runner in the lineup, was held the favorite at 2-1. But Tenpins, entering off a pair of graded wins, was bet down to 7-2. Najran entered with a four-race win streak; veterans Dollar Bill, Gander, and Hero's Tribute added salt and depth to the stew. Tenpins grabbed the early lead with Najran in close attendance. Hero's Tribute was alert early, and 42-1 Crafty Shaw, training sensationally coming in, carried James Lopez to within two lengths of the front. Jorge Chavez let Lido Palace settle in mid-pack along the rail, then wisely moved him outside up the backstretch. Najran stuck his nose in front briefly, but he and Tenpins starched each other through splits of :23.96 and :48.06, and with three-eighths to run, it was Crafty Shaw who showed the way around the final turn. Hero's Tribute mounted a major threat down the stretch and looked a winner, while Chavez was battling to keep Lido Palace going straight while six-wide. "He was drifting out and he's never done that to me before," Chavez said. "I had my hands full making him go straight. But I had a lot of horse and I won very comfortable." When you're aboard a horse as accomplished as the winner, perhaps you feel comfortable, but Crafty Shaw wasn't giving up without a tussle. The final margin was a head, with Lido Palace well out on the course and Crafty Shaw near the rail. The clock stopped at 1:49.13. Hero's Tribute held third. The Amermans had a contingent of family and friends in from their Southern California base to brave the cold climes of the Midwest, many too nervous to watch the final moments of the Clark. John Amerman, retired now from his post as CEO of toy company Mattel, reacted like a kid who'd just discovered everything he wanted under the Christmas tree. "He's a big, strong horse coming down the stretch. I thought he would do it because he always does. He has so much heart, and he runs to his competition. That's why I wanted to run in the Breeders' Cup. If they're going to call themselves the World Thoroughbred Championships, they should find a way to let horses from the Southern Hemisphere run without having to pay $800,000. It wasn't the money...don't get me wrong, these pockets aren't that deep, but it's an issue in principle that we shouldn't have to do that." Amerman mentioned the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) for Lido Palace next year. But his trainer, Bobby Frankel, speaking from New York the day after the Clark, said he prefers to keep Lido Palace off speed-favoring ovals such as Gulfstream Park's. He mentioned the same sort of campaign as this year, with emphasis on the major New York stakes next summer. Wherever he shows up, Lido Palace is a horse that deserves major kudos from fans. They don't make many like him, and of those, far too few stick around long enough. ALLAMERICAN HOLIDAY It's all come together this year for Allamerican Bertie, building course upon course until culminating in a huge, delicious Thanksgiving feast. Unraced last year at two, the daughter of Quiet American out of Clever Bertie started off in February with a nine-length maiden smasher, and ended her 3-year-old campaign with a hard-fought, valiant victory over Take Charge Lady Thanksgiving day in the $270,000 Falls City Handicap (gr. II). She went to the post 11 times in 2002 and gained six victories, two of them graded, earning $619,235 for owners Bert, Elaine, and Richard Klein. "We could see her mature through the year, running faster each race," said trainer Steve Flint. "In her first stakes try in the spring (the Dogwood, gr. III), Take Charge Lady beat her three lengths and she wasn't really ready for that type of race. But we watched her get better and better, and I said coming in here I wouldn't trade places with anyone." Brave words, considering Take Charge Lady had won no less than five graded stakes this year, and was one of the divisional leaders since her massacre of the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) field back in February at Fair Grounds. While no match for Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), the daughter of Dehere was a convincing winner of the Overbrook Spinster (gr. I) preceding that. The honest Printemps; Softly, coming off two stakes wins; and Lady Shari, a Canadian graded winner, ensured a solid match. Allamerican Bertie and Pat Day figured to make the lead, but the filly didn't break alertly, while Take Charge Lady under Edgar Prado did. They were glued together until the clubhouse turn, when Day nudged his charge to the front. The field raced single file up the backstretch, turning in splits of :24.09 and :48.78. Take Charge Lady came calling on the bend, but Allamerican Bertie responded. "When Edgar came up on the outside, she was up to the challenge," said Day. "She was running under her own power. I tapped her and she started to draw away. It was a big, big race." Allamerican Bertie won by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:49.60, with Softly third. The win mutuel was $7.20. Co-owner Bert Klein also bred Allamerican Bertie. The Kleins, who used to own the Bank of Louisville, bought 25 yearlings this year as they move from a claiming stable to developing high-quality runners. This was the first Churchill Downs stakes win for the Kleins and for Flint, whose father, Bernie, trained for the Kleins as well. "I've still got the dam and I've got a contract back to Quiet American. I'm a firm believer in repeating," said Bert Klein. Allamerican Bertie will get a break until the latter stages of the Gulfstream meet. "She's going to be a force in the division next year if we can keep her going," Flint noted. As for Take Charge Lady, trainer Kenny McPeek indicated she's likely to journey to Texas for the inaugural Great State Challenge Distaff Dec. 7.