Paco Gonzalez was hard at work, serving up the hot afternoon mash for his eager troops. On this day, however, there was a detectable skip to his step. Here was a man who for months had a monkey on his back the size of King Kong, a man whose burden--at least temporarily--had vanished. "Oh, what a relief, like you said. Sheesh." There has never been any doubt concerning the brilliance of one Came Home, the son of Gone West who Gonzalez trains for breeders John Toffan, Trudy McCaffery, and co-owners Will Farish and John Goodman. What has lingered, however, as the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) continues to draw near, is the notion that the colt's sprint-geared pedigree will sooner or later stifle his progress. Maybe, maybe not. But the little colt with a big heart simply ignores the gossip altogether, and he went a long way toward silencing his critics for good March 2, delivering a convincing three-length knockout in the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes (gr. II) at a mile. "I knew he was going to run big," admitted Gonzalez, cracking a smile only a proud papa could wear. "It's a good thing he won, because I was under a lot of pressure because everybody said, 'Oh, he's not going to make the mile.' " He did--with authority. Breaking with purpose, Came Home gave jockey Chris McCarron plenty of options, and entering the clubhouse turn, McCarron eased back on the bit, settling the colt just outside of Werblin. Though keen from the gun, Came Home soon relaxed into his efficient stride, then pounced on Werblin approaching the quarter pole. A dark bay blend of power and grace through the stretch, Came Home crossed the line in 1:36.24. Easy Grades, an Honor Grades gelding making just his fourth start for trainer Ted H. West, closed to nail Werblin for second. "Draw a line through it," suggested McCarron, adverting to Came Home's poor run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last fall. "He gave me a lot of encouraging signs today that another furlong is certainly within his grasp. He's just real professional." For those heeding the Triple Crown trail, Came Home's development--regardless of pedigree--is moving seamlessly. For Gonzalez, the San Rafael was simply the manifestation of what he already knew deep down.
"Today he proved that he can go," Gonzalez said. "He was not stopping at the end. Even Chris told me galloping out, no one caught him. He got pressure all the way. It's not like he had an easy race, like he just went over there for fun. "He's a real trier, you know," the trainer went on. "I may get lucky. One more eighth and then we'll be in good shape." There's a very good chance Came Home will get his shot in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on April 6. (Chart, Equibase)