Saturday, March 27, 1999

Female trainer, 68, on path to Derby


K One King faces stern test today in Gallery

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Akiko Gothard is looking for a sign, preferably one at the top of a tote board. She wants a legitimate reason to Run for the Roses. She is wary of being “blinded” by the Kentucky Derby.

        She is 68 years old, but in no great hurry to saddle a horse on the first Saturday in May. She has trained K One King with Churchill Downs in mind, but without the obsessive need to hear “My Old Kentucky Home.”

        Maybe it's because her old home is in Tokyo. Maybe it's a case of wanting to be worthy of the great race. Or maybe Akiko Gothard has a higher regard for her horse than she does for her own ego.

        “A long time ago I made up my mind,” Gothard said. “If I ever have a good horse, I will develop the horse for the big races like the Derby. But a lot of people take the attitude, "I have to have a Derby horse.' When you get blinded, you will make wrong decisions.”

        Only eight women have saddled starters for America's most crowded cavalry charge. Because Madeleine Paulson bought K One King earlier this month, Akiko Gothard will likely be No. 9. Paulson has been known to get blinded by Derby Fever, and she is rich enough to afford a little recklessness.

        K One King has won three races in a row at Turfway Park, but Gothard says he must distinguish himself in this afternoon's Gallery Furniture.com Stakes if he is to be shipped to Louisville for the 125th Derby on May 1. “At least second or third,” Gothard said. “But I don't want a distant third.”

Paulson has Derby fever
        Madeleine Paulson, however, may not be so picky.

        Together with dieting diva Jenny Craig, Paulson entered the regrettable Rock and Roll in last year's Derby and finished a forgettable 14th. D. Wayne Lukas, long suspected of harboring his own Derby obsession, claimed the main reason Rock and Roll was entered in the race was as an excuse for its owners to show off their new hats.

        Paulson's purchase of K One King — at a reported price of $1.7 million — suggests she is determined to return to the Twin Spires and is prepared to pay a hefty premium to get there. Gothard, who doubles as a bloodstock agent, appears to have timed the equine market as deftly as Hillary Clinton did cattle futures.

        She has also succeeded in hedging her bets, negotiating a contract that stipulates she will continue to train K One King at least through the Triple Crown races. That way, Gothard gets a commission up front, and a share of any purses and/or glory that may develop in the Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes.

Big fish in small pond
        To date, no female trainer has won the Kentucky Derby. Gothard's chances with K One King are rated a 20-1 shot at the Caesars Palace Race and Sports Book. It's a sucker bet — five weeks before the Derby, every horse should be a longshot — but K One King is one colt that encourages confidence.

        “There's no telling how good this horse might be,” jockey Francisco Torres said after a nine-length victory in the John Battaglia Stakes. “He's done everything effortlessly, from behind and in front. And it looks like the farther he goes, the better he gets.”

        The same might be said of Gothard. She has reached her prime as a trainer at an age when many of her contemporaries are contemplating social security. She started late, but she would seem to be a fast finisher.

        Gothard came to the races almost by accident, hired initially to translate sale catalogs for Japanese customers after her first husband took a teaching job at the University of Kentucky. Linguistics led to bloodstock sales and equine insurance and ultimately to owning and training her own horses. Upon the death of her second husband in 1993, Akiko Gothard took responsibility for a stable.

        “It's the most interesting business or job you can possibly imagine,” she said. “Each horse is different. You can't treat them all the same way. It's about the same as people. Sometimes, when you think you've figured them out, they do something different.”

        K One King, she says, is the exception — a horse so consistently sedate that Gothard used to routinely take his temperature for fear of a fever.

        “This horse is an easy horse to train,” she said. “Some horses are born cheap. Some horses have class. It makes so much difference.”

        A Derby horse ought to be classy. A Derby trainer wants the horse to prove it.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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