Ray Paulick<br>Editor in Chief

Ray Paulick
Editor in Chief


There was a surreal irony in the Southern California air following the 62nd running of the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 1. Throughout the afternoon, thousands of miniature Chris McCarrons -- carried by racing fans in the form of "bobblehead dolls" given away by Hollywood Park management in one of the most unique promotions in years -- were bobbing their heads up and down to their new owners' pleasure.

But down near the winner's circle, the real Chris McCarron was shaking his head side to side in utter disbelief. Stewards had just disqualified McCarron and his Gold Cup mount, Futural, who had crossed the finish line 1 1/2 lengths in front but were placed third after causing interference when Futural lugged into Skimming in midstretch.

Skimming, who finished 4 1/2 lengths behind at the wire in the 10-furlong fixture, probably wasn't going to beat Futural, but stewards did what they had to do, disqualifying the best horse, even in a grade I event. It's not a very satisfying way to determine the outcome of such an important race, but that's the way the game has always been played.

In the years since Seabiscuit took the inaugural Gold Cup in 1938, stewards have disqualified only one other first-place finisher, the New Zealand gelding Caterman, who bothered California-bred Eleven Stitches just enough nearing the finish of the 1981 renewal to have his number taken down after putting his head in front at the wire. Caterman's jockey, Darrel McHargue, now serves as a steward in Northern California.

Beneficiary of this year's disqualification was Aptitude, Skimming's Juddmonte Farms stablemate who was lumbering out near the middle of the track and out of harm's way when the interference took place. For trainer Robert Frankel, the Gold Cup was a "look what I found victory" for a colt who was eligible for a "non-winners of two other than" despite showing so much promise one year ago with runner-up finishes in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). But the Hall of Fame trainer has been on the other side of the fence, too, and he's never been shy about expressing his opinions of the stewards' decisions. This time he wasn't saying much.

For McCarron, the DQ extended a streak of futility in Hollywood Park's premier race going back to 1980, when his first Gold Cup mount, Balzac, part of a three-ply entry from Charlie Whittingham, lost by a neck to longshot Go West Young Man. He's been defeated on some good ones since then: John Henry in 1984, Precisionist in 1985 and '86, Alysheba in 1988, and Farma Way in 1991. The mounts in the race haven't been as live in the past decade, and when the Hall of Fame rider was hoisted aboard Futural by trainer Craig Dollase, his Gold Cup record stood at 0-for-18, with nine seconds.

Aptitude's win gave Laffit Pincay Jr. his eighth Gold Cup triumph, putting him alongside fellow Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker atop that category. Racing's all-time win leader won his first Gold Cup in 1970 with Pleasure Seeker, then followed with Ancient Title in 1975, Crystal Water in 1977, Affirmed in 1979, Perrault in 1982, Greinton in 1985, and Super Diamond in 1986. Like Frankel, Pincay has been on the losing end of stewards' decisions more than a few times, the most memorable when Perrault was disqualified after beating John Henry in the 1982 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).

Pincay hasn't been memorialized with a bobblehead doll of his own, though his day is coming. Hollywood Park plans its second such promotion on July 15, the day of the Swaps Stakes (gr. I).

As for McCarron, you couldn't blame him if he swatted the head off one of the nodding souvenirs. He was enthusiastic and good-natured in helping the track in its promotional efforts for the giveaway, but in the end it was a day the 46-year-old rider would probably like to forget.