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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• I’LL HAVE ANOTHER HORSE OF THE YEAR FOR TEAM O’NEILL
• SAN FERNANDO GOOD STARTING POINT FOR REGULUS
• RACING MOURNS PASSING OF RETIRED TRAINER LIN WHEELER
• PICK SIX BONUS A WINNER ON TRACK AND IN HANDLE
O’NEILL CONTENT WITH HIS ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME HORSE
Doug O’Neill is nothing if not a realist. If he had his druthers, he would love it if I’ll Have Another is named 2012's Horse of the Year when the Eclipse Award winners are announced at Gulfstream Park a week from Saturday on Jan. 19.
But the 44-year-old trainer of the only winner of three Grade I races on dirt last year--the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes--realizes full well that voters chronically suffer from short attention span disorder, and since I’ll Have Another didn’t race the final seven months of last year, despite going unbeaten and winning all four of his starts, all stakes, he has virtually no chance to win Horse of the Year honors against the other two finalists, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned and favored Wise Dan.
Despite his vested interest, O’Neill can live with that.
“Obviously, we’re very close to that picture, so it’s hard to be real impartial, but he’s Horse of the Year in our minds,” O’Neill said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse. Anytime you win the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, that’s quite a feat. The horse is a real champion.
“He brought Mario Gutierrez world-wide recognition, and that was huge in itself. I’ll Have Another was great to us and I think great for racing.”
No doubt about that. Now sold and retired to stud in Japan, I’ll Have Another was within a 36-hour countdown of making a bid for a Belmont Stakes victory and racing history by becoming only the 12th Triple Crown winner, when a tendon injury put an end to that quest and ultimately resulted in his retirement.
Rival Horse of the Year finalists Fort Larned and Wise Dan had their day in the sun in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, Fort Larned capturing the Classic and Wise Dan setting a course record of 1:31.78 in winning the Mile. For I’ll Have Another, it was out of sight, out of mind.
“I do think if you’re not running on Breeders’ Cup day, the voters definitely look down on that,” O’Neill said. “Because I’ll Have Another didn’t compete the last half of the year, he wasn’t fresh in their minds.
“Still, it’s an honor to be nominated. We’re all going to Florida and have a fun time. Win, lose or draw, we’re going to have a great time.”
Team O’Neill will take solace with an Eclipse Award for I’ll Have Another as outstanding 3-year-old male of 2012, but O’Neill, never one to count his chickens before they hatch, was prepared in any case.
“We should be good there,” he said, “and if we’re not, that’s OK too.”
GOLDENCENTS CONSIDERED FOR MARCH 9 SAN FELIPE, O’NEILL SAYS
Sham Stakes winner Goldencents could make his next start on the Triple Crown trail in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 9, trainer Doug O’Neill indicated Thursday morning.
“We’re going to meet with his owners next week,” O’Neill said, “but one of the things we’ve talked about is maybe the San Felipe being his next start.”
REGULUS MAKES STAKES DEBUT FOR HARTY IN SAN FERNANDO
Regulus runs in his first stakes race when the Darley Stud homebred runs in Saturday’s Grade II, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes exclusively for 4-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. Trainer Eoin Harty thinks it’s a good starting point for the gelded son of Distorted Humor, who is coming off a sixth-place finish in an allowance race on Betfair Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Dec. 1, in which he weakened after attending the pace to the half-mile marker.
“He was in against some very tough competition,” Harty reasoned.
“It’s his first stakes race, but you’ve got to start somewhere. He’s been working super, he’s a 4-year-old, he’s in against straight 4-year-olds and there are not many opportunities like this, so you have to take them when you can.”
Regulus has one win on Santa Anita’s conventional dirt main track, and shows a bullet 1:14 1/5 work for six furlongs at his Hollywood Park headquarters on Dec. 29. Aaron Gryder, who has ridden the bay Kentucky-bred in his last four races, winning two, retains the mount.
The San Fernando, which goes as the seventh of nine races: Battle Force, Garrett Gomez, 9-2; Fly Lexus Fly, Rafael Bejarano, 6-1; Regulus, Gryder, 8-1; Mile High Magic, Martin Garcia, 8-1; Guilt Trip, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Handsome Mike, Mario Gutierrez, 9-2; Sky Kingdom, Edwin Maldonado, 20-1; Fed Biz, Mike Smith, 7-2; Tribal Jewel, Julien Leparoux, 6-1; and Tritap, Corey Nakatani, 10-1.
TRAINER LIN WHEELER PASSES AT AGE 70
Trainer Lin Wheeler, who for many years was based in Southern California, died this past Saturday at age 70 from the effects of congestive heart failure at his home in Coarsegold, California.
Retired from training for the past 10 years, Wheeler was the son of trainer R.L. “Bob” Wheeler, who was inducted into the National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame this past August.
Affectionately known to his friends as “The Hombre,” Lin Wheeler conditioned several stakes winners, including eventual 1982 Eclipse Award-winning mare Track Robbery, Grade I winner Rascal Lass, multiple stakes-winning sprinter Maheras, who won the 1976 Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita, Gourami, a winner of the 1986 Cornhusker Handicap (Grade II), multiple stakes winner Individual Style and the good sprinter Ballrullah.
As a young man, Wheeler was around some of the best horses in the country, as his father trained the likes of Bug Brush, Silver Spoon, Tompion, Old Pueblo, Dotted Swiss and Miss Todd.
“I think the best race I ever saw was when Bug Brush and Hillsdale ran against each other in the (1959) San Antonio Handicap,” recalled Wheeler in 1985. “They hooked up at the half-mile pole and ran head and head to the wire.”
In receipt of a seven-pound sex allowance, Bug Brush, with 113 pounds and Angel Valenzuela, prevailed over the great Hillsdale and Tommy Barrow by three quarters of length, getting the 1 1/8 miles in a then-world record of 1:46.40.
Lin Wheeler gave up his public stable for several years in the early 1980s, as he took on a private assignment for Bruce McNall’s Summa Stable, for whom he developed Track Robbery.
He would also go on to train for Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, who raced as Vista Stables in the mid ‘80s. It was Vista which owned Rascal Lass and also a precocious filly that Wheeler developed named Baby Grace, who went on to become the dam of multiple graded stakes winner Repent.
In recent years, Wheeler worked as a racing official at Charles Town and River Downs and was also stud manager for a time at Three Chimneys Farm in Lexington, Ky.
Wheeler, who died peacefully with his sister, Sidney, at his side; is survived by his stepbrother, Lance, a son, Jeff, a daughter, Sherri Wheeler McNitt, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
There will be a memorial for Wheeler this Saturday at 2 p.m., at 46777 Oonah Nation Road, Coarsegold, Ca., 93614, according to Sidney Wheeler.
PICK SIX BONUS PRODUCES 3 WINNERS WHO BAG A TOTAL OF $8,776.20
Santa Anita’s all-new 20 percent on-track Pick Six bonus rewarded three lucky fans attending The Great Race Place on Sunday, as they will bag a total of $8,776.20—20 percent more than the Pick Six mutuel payout of $7,313.20, which will go to nine other winning tickets purchased off-track.
In order to be eligible for the 20 percent on-track bonus, fans must sign up as Thoroughbreds Club members and swipe their membership cards before making Pick Six wagers. Fans can become Thoroughbreds members free of charge, by visiting Santa Anita’s Thoroughbreds Center on the main floor of the Grandstand.
“This is an important initiative for our on-track fans,” said Santa Anita President and General Manager George Haines in a statement on Jan. 3. “The Pick Six is the most popular, high-profile wager offered in California and this 20 percent on-track bonus will go a long way towards enhancing that tradition.
‘We want to encourage everyone, if they haven’t already done so, to be sure to join our Thoroughbreds Club in order to be eligible for the bonus.”
During the month of January, Santa Anita will offer a retroactive Pick Six bonus to those who have not yet signed up as Thoroughbreds members, in order to facilitate implementation of the new program.
For those who have not yet become Thoroughbreds members during the month of January only, players can bring their winning Pick Six tickets to any information window where they must fill out required documentation in order to become eligible for the 20 percent bonus.
The Pick Six is a two dollar minimum wager and consists of the last six races on each day’s race program at Santa Anita.
FINISH LINES: Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Calidoscopio worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Wednesday in 1:01.40. “We’ll look at the San Antonio (Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 3) and then if all goes well the Santa Anita Handicap (1 ¼ miles on March 2),” trainer Mike Puype said . . . Betfair Hollywood Park riding champ Edwin Maldonado will be Steve Andersen’s guest at Saturday’s Daily Racing Form seminar, 11:15 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens. Maldonado is named to ride in all nine races Saturday . . . With 1,329 players selecting favored Mizdirection in Sunday’s Monrovia Stakes, 1,692 contestants were alive in Santa Anita’s popular on line handicapping contest, ShowVivor, going into Thursday’s races . . . In Monday’s “Jeopardy” category, Rule of Thirds, the answer was Kentucky Derby, Preakness, with the question one that every race tracker knew, “The Belmont Stakes.” . . . Mel Stute has been back at his regular table at Clockers’ Corner for almost a week straight now since recovering from hitting his head in a fall nearly a month ago. The 85-year-old retired trainer is still undergoing therapy once a week in Pasadena, however, at a place he affectionately refers to as The Nut House. ”Mentally,” he says, “I’m a little bit off.” Welcome to the club.