At Santa Anita, some 24,000 furlongs west of Aqueduct, mild but courteous attention was paid to the announcement that Secretariat had won the Bay Shore. After all, the Kentucky Derby was still seven weeks away and of more immediate concern was the $69,700 San Felipe Handicap, which had drawn the leading 3-year-olds on the Coast.
Californians must have their Derby hopefuls, too, and they are not beyond adopting horses who winter at Santa Anita but hail from other parts of the land. A few years ago Majestic Prince, as Kentucky a product as bourbon whiskey or the twin spires of Churchill Downs, became the West Coast's choice after a sensational Santa Anita campaign. Last week it looked as if Californians would have to side with an import again if they were to have a serious rooting interest at Louisville.
The favorites in the mile-and-a-sixteenth San Felipe, which served as the final prep for the March 31 Santa Anita Derby, were all recruited in the East. The even-money top choice, Linda's Chief, was bred in Ocala, Fla. by his Albany, N.Y. owner, Neil Hellman. Listed at 6 to 5 was Sham, foaled in Kentucky and also owned by a New Yorker, who had purchased him for $200,000. The third choice, Groshawk, was bred and raised by a Pennsylvanian. Last fall Hollywood Producer Quinn Martin (The FBI and Cannon) bought the colt for $120,000 and moved him West, which somewhat legitimizes California's claim on him.
Actually, as the race developed the state did not do badly. Yes, Linda's Chief won, by an impressive three lengths, but two California-bred sprinters, Ancient Title and Out of the East (Out of the East a California-bred?), finished second and third. Sham performed greenly and ended up fourth just ahead of Groshawk.
If Linda's Chief is not vastly improved, he will have little chance of beating Secretariat later this season. In their only meetings at 2, Linda's Chief went down to defeat, trounced by three and 11 lengths. But since the son of Chieftain headed West under a new trainer, Bobby Frankel, he seems to have flourished. The horse won the San Miguel and then the San Jacinto Stakes in track-record time (a mile in 1:33[4/5]). Braulio Baeza now was flying West to ride Linda's Chief. "He may fool people, going a longer distance than he's supposed to," the jockey said. "I'm starting to like him a lot." The colt is by a stallion whose best distance was up to a mile. But this light-bodied brown runs a lot better than he looks.
Frankel was confident of victory last Saturday, though the talk of the West in recent weeks has been Sham, who had won four straight. "I'll win, don't you worry," said Frankel. "Even with top weight of 126 pounds. Now that this colt has learned to rate he may go as far as any."
Frankel, even more than his horse, figures to have a future. He is a refreshing individual who might have stepped out of Guys and Dolls. Last summer he sent out 180 starters at Hollywood Park. Sixty of them won, another 34 were second and 28 more were third—for an astounding 122 out of 180 runners in the money. At the current Santa Anita meeting, racing against superior stables, Frankel has won 26 of 119 races, only three fewer than Charlie Whittingham, the country's leading trainer the last three years. Since Frankel took over Linda's Chief, the horse has won four of his five starts.
The San Felipe is often a good guide to what might happen in the Santa Anita Derby, but due to some misadventures, that may not be the case this spring. When the gates opened, Ancient Title, who had upset Linda's Chief in the San Vicente, took the lead. Baeza placed his mount perfectly behind the pacesetter but Groshawk and Sham were held back. Don Pierce on Groshawk began his serious move at the half-mile pole but the effort was mistimed. A sixteenth of a mile from home Groshawk turned sluggish and leg-weary. Meanwhile Laffit Pincay on Sham had been saving ground along the rail. At the top of the stretch Pincay drove for a hole, but the opening closed just as his horse reached it. Pincay switched outside and when he did Sham moved well, but by then the race was over.
Despite the excuses, it would seem that Linda's Chief is the best in California. Ancient Title and Out of the East, sons of the swift Gummo, are expected to drop out of contention in the month ahead as the distances lengthen out. Sham and Groshawk are bred for classic routes and should improve.
But nothing is settled, that's for certain, not even that Linda's Chief is Kentucky bound. He will appear in the Santa Anita Derby and then in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields. "The colt has had a rough winter," says Owner Hellman. "Maybe now we should slow down. I've never had a Kentucky Derby starter, but all too often I've seen good horses come out of that race not so good. I wouldn't want that to happen to Linda's Chief."
"Why go to the Kentucky Derby?" asks Trainer Frankel.
On the other hand, why not?
The speedy Ancient Title feels the whip as Linda's Chief (5) moves in a winning surge.