Two of the nation’s fastest Thoroughbreds, both winners of one of America’s most prestigious sprint races—the Grade I Malibu Stakes—are on course for a showdown in the California Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 29.

They are M One Rifle, the 2009 winner, and Bob Black Jack, winner of the seven furlong Malibu in 2008. Each horse worked Friday, M One Rifle going five furlongs at Santa Anita in a bullet :59.20, while Bob Black Jack went four furlongs at Hollywood Park in a bullet :46.40.

M One Rifle, a 5-year-old gelded son of One Man Army trained by Bruce Headley, has not raced since running an uncharacteristic seventh in the Grade I Triple Bend at Hollywood on July 2, but has been training forwardly since for the Cal Cup Sprint.

“He worked good,” said Headley’s daughter, Karen. “It was exactly what he was supposed to do.”

Bob Black Jack, trained by James Kasparoff, has been on the shelf since winning the Grade II San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita in February of last year, but like M One Rifle, has been working smartly for his return.

“He’s ready to run,” Kasparoff said of the 6-year-old Stormy Jack horse of which he owns a share along with his brother, Tim, and Jeff Harmon.

Probable for the $100,000 California Cup Sprint: Bob Black Jack, Patrick Valenzuela; Cost of Freedom, Rafael Bejarano; Courtside, Joel Rosario; M One Rifle, Chantal Sutherland; and Mensa Heat, Joe Talamo.


Like most horsemen facing Sister Moon in Saturday’s $65,000 Anoakia Stakes, Eric Kruljac is realistic. He figures everyone has an insurmountable challenge in facing 3-5 morning line favorite Sister Moon in the six-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies.

“We’re all running for second,” said Kruljac, who trains Lasso From El Paso, listed at 8-1 on Jon White’s morning line. Kruljac did come up with a side note on how Lasso From El Paso got her unusual name.

“Frank Lewkowitz (one of the owners of the Florida-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken) is a big fan of Kinky Friedman, a Jewish country-western singer and composer,” Kruljac related, “and that’s his biggest song.”

The field for the Anoakia, which goes as race three on a 10-race program: Ismene, Patrick Valenzuela, 4-1; Nicos Memory, Rafael Bejarano, 10-1; Lasso from El Paso, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; Sister Moon, Joel Rosario, 3-5; Evelyn’s Dancer, Mario Gutierrez, 20-1; and Lady Pecan, Martin Garcia, 4-1.


Like several others in the lineup, Robbie’s War seeks his first stakes victory in Sunday’s $65,000 Uniformity Stakes for 3-year-olds at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

The gelded son of War Chant led before finishing fourth in his only stakes race to date, the restricted Oceanside at Del Mar on July 20.

“There are no other races for him,” trainer Jim Cassidy explained. “But the horse is an honest little horse. He tries.”

In nine starts, the Kentucky-bred bay has a 1-2-1 record for a partnership headed by long-time Cassidy client Don Van Kempen of Carlsbad.

The field for the Uniformity Stakes: Irish Art, Joel Rosario; Lion Hall, Mike Smith; supplemental nominee Luckarack, Alonso Quinonez; Robbie’s War, Victor Espinoza; Shred the Secrets, Patrick Valenzuela; Fort Hastings, Brice Blanc; Sinai, Rafael Bejarano; Every Ego, Daniel Vergara; and Commander, Mario Gutierrez.


Article by Steve Butler

(Reprinted with permission and courtesy of The West Australian, published on Oct. 15, 2011. WAN material cannot be archived or passed on to any third party under any circumstances).

MELBOURNE--A Russian-born trotting trainer who has turned his interest to thoroughbreds in California, while battling a serious bout of throat cancer, is indeed an unusual suspect among the cast contesting today’s (Saturday, Oct. 15) $2.5 million BMW Caulfield Cup (2400m).

Barry Abrams, whose life story reads more fiction than fact, has dreamed for more than three decades about having a horse good enough to run in Australia’s famous Melbourne Cup.

But today at Caulfield, as his (California-bred) stayer Unusual Suspect takes his last preparatory step towards the race that stops the nation, Abrams will remain locked down at his US home to recover from the last of 55 grueling radiation treatments used to try to blast his cancer away for the second time.

A failure to comply last year with strict quarantine regulations delayed Abrams’ hopes of sending Unusual Suspect, who won last year’s Group 1 Hollywood Turf Cup (2400m), to Australia for the Melbourne Cup by a year.

But it is now 31 years since the start of a long association with Australian pacing great Brian Gath triggered his dreams of playing a part in the great race. So he sent the horse to the Cranbourne stables of Michael Kent in May to make sure the dreams finally became a reality.

“Brian started sending me horses in 1979, 1980 from Moonee Valley, so I started reading up on the horses from Australia and the Melbourne Cup was always the biggest race,” Abrams told The Weekend West.

“So over the years I dreamed that if I ever got into gallopers, I wanted to have a horse in the Melbourne Cup. But I never had one good enough, until this horse. It’s nice to dream and anything can happen.”

Abrams’ wife Dyan and brother David are planning to be trackside at Flemington next month, but his continued battle with cancer will stop him from making the long flight from his base at California’s Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, which will be home to next year’s Breeders’ Cup.

The 57-year-old was first diagnosed with throat cancer six years ago after initially being told by a doctor he had nothing more than swollen lymph nodes. An ear, nose and throat specialist then asked the non-smoker how many packets of cigarettes he went through a day before further scans revealed a tumour the size of a golf ball. But despite his serious health issues, Abrams has more than 200 horses which keep his racing passion intact.

“I sound like a Mafia man,” he joked through his rasping voice.

“I went through the radiation and chemo and beat it and they said if I last five years I’m in good shape . . . four months ago it came back. So I’ve just gone through the same thing again and finished the last treatments a week ago.

“But I’m happy when I wake up — I’ve got 40 in training, 40 yearlings, 40 weanlings, 40 broodmares and about 60 two, three, four and five-year-olds and I’ve got something to look forward to every day.

“I only have about two or three hours of energy in the morning, but I’m there every day and they are what I live for. From the time you get cancer, your life changes.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter about anything. The main thing is to wake up in the morning because cancer has no friends. The guy from Apple, Steve Jobs, died two weeks ago, 56 years old. So I’m lucky and if I win a Melbourne Cup, that will keep me going a little longer.

“It will have to kill me right away because I’m not giving up. I feel like I’ve been a lucky person all my life.”

The fighting spirit in Abrams comes as little surprise considering his novel-life like journey. His family risked everything as they escaped communist-ruled Russia by freight train in 1960 with nothing but a suitcase when he was just six. But it was the earlier survival of his father Lev Abramovsky, who died two years ago aged 85, which is more exasperating.

“He was lucky to be alive,” Abrams recalled. “He was 16 years old in Mir, Poland, when they rounded everyone up outside, naked. The Germans were shooting everybody, everybody was falling in the grave. My father froze from the cold and fell into the grave right before the machine gun got to him.

“The people who fell on top of him, their warm blood kept him alive. When the darkness came, he crawled out of the grave and joined the partisan underground.”

Abrams began his career as a horseman with standardbreds in 1972, and in 1984 became the youngest US trainer at 29 to prepare a $1 million stake earner, a stable star called Guts. He then turned to training thoroughbreds in 1993.

He owned and raced Unusual Suspect’s sire, champion Californian stallion Unusual Heat, who set a Golden State stallion progeny earnings record of US $5,827,513 ($5,692,314) in 2008. He bred his Caulfield Cup hopeful, who has won nearly $1.3 million in prize money, from a former race mare he bought in New Zealand. The eight-year-old has won races at every track in California, ranging in distances from 1207m to 2414m.

Unusual Suspect finished fourth behind Rekindled Interest at Moonee Valley at his first Australian run early last month. He was a scratching from the Turnbull Stakes, won by Caulfield Cup favourite December Draw, on October 1 after a nail was accidentally banged into his hoof when he was reshod. He then suffered a gash in a leg after being galloped on early in last Sunday’s Cranbourne Cup.

Unusual Suspect will drop 3.5kg from his troubled Cranbourne run. Champion Sydney jockey Nash Rawiller is again taking the ride in the Caulfield Cup.

“He’s never won a big race, he’s just nickelled and dimed them and won over a million dollars,” Abrams said. “We’ve had a few setbacks getting to this race, but we go forward from here and get ready for the Melbourne Cup. I know he’s good enough to win, but whether he is fit enough is the question.” *******

(Editor’s note: Unusual Suspect finished sixth in the Caulfield’ Cup, earning $75,000. Initial plans called for the horse to run in the $1 million MacKinnon Stakes at 1 ¼ miles at Flemington Oct. 29 prior to the Melbourne Cup over two miles on Nov. 1, but Abrams said Friday morning that Unusual Suspect would pass the MacKinnon and train into the Melbourne Cup).

FINISH LINES: Garrett Gomez is firm on 11 of 15 Breeders’ Cup races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 and 5, agent Tony Matos reports. Gomez rides Miss Match for Neil Drysdale in the Ladies’ Classic; Cozi Rosie for John Sadler in the Filly & Mare Turf; Shotgun Gulch for C.R. Trout in the Filly & Mare Sprint; Ann of the Dance for Marty Wolfson in the Juvenile Fillies; Cease in the Marathon for Al Stahl Jr.; Alpha for Kiaran McLaughlin in the Juvenile; Get Stormy for Tom Bush in the Mile; Majestic City for Peter Miller in the Juvenile Turf; Broken Dreams for Tom Proctor in the Turf Sprint; Tapizar for Steve Asmussen in the Marathon; and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice for Kelly Breen in the Classic. Cozi Rosie worked six furlongs Friday on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track in1:13.40 . . . Unbeaten Oak Leaf Stakes winner Weemissfrankie will work five furlongs Saturday under former jockey Paul Toscano for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 4. “She’ll have one more work after that, probably the Friday or Saturday before we leave (for Churchill Downs),” trainer Peter Eurton said . . . Only 14 contestants remained alive in ShowVivor entering Friday’s races, down from 37 on Thursday . . . Saturday is Stadium Blanket Giveaway Day at Santa Anita. All fans at the track will be able to take home a new stadium blanket free, with paid admission, while supplies last . . . KLAC radio’s Vic the Brick brings his special brand of zaniness back to Santa Anita Sunday to promote the Fourth and Four football and horse racing contest that offers a chance to win $500 at Sirona’s Sports Bar. For further details, visit Santa Anita’s website, . . . HRTV’s Millie Ball and Kurt Hoover will be Jack Disney’s guest handicappers at Sunday’s Fans’ Forum, 11:45 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens.