Sunday, April 6, 2003

Buddy Gil punches ticket to Kentucky

Stevens rides gelding to record 9th SA Derby win

The Associated Press

ARCADIA, Calif. - Buddy Gil won his last two races by a nose and a head. His biggest asset might be his heart.

The bay gelding overcame a coughing fit and defeated Bob Baffert's Indian Express by a head to win the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, earning a trip to the Kentucky Derby and the recognition that has eluded him most of the year.

"The horse is a real blue-collar horse. Arguably, he's modestly bred," co-owner Scott Guenther said. "This horse has got a huge heart. He wants to beat you."

Gary Stevens rode a record ninth Santa Anita Derby winner, breaking a tie with Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker. Stevens won the race for the first time in 1988.

"I never could imagine winning two or three, much less nine and breaking Shoemaker's record," said Stevens, who took five months off to act in the racing movie "Seabiscuit."

In other major races Saturday, Ten Most Wanted won the Illinois Derby by six lengths; Dynever won the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream; and Elloluv scored a 33/4-length victory in the Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. At Oaklawn, 2002 horse of the year Azeri rallied to beat Take Charge Lady in the Apple Blossom Handicap and trainer Bobby Frankel's Medaglia d'Oro won the Oaklawn Handicap.

Atswhatimtalknbout, whose owners include Hollywood directors Steven Spielberg, Gary Ross and Frank Marshall, entered the Santa Anita Derby with the most hype despite never wining a stakes race. The colt finished fourth as the 3-2 wagering favorite in the field of nine (Ministers Wild Cat was scratched).

"They were going reasonably quick up front and he was galloping along," said Atswhatimtalknbout's trainer, Ron Ellis. "I thought he'd be closer."

Ellis thinks he'll take the horse to the Kentucky Derby.

Buddy Gil covered 1 1-8 miles in 1:49.36. The margin of victory was the second smallest in the race's 66-year history. Four horses won by a nose.

Buddy Gil, trained by Jeff Mullins, overcame traffic to beat Atswhatimtalknbout by a nose in the San Felipe Stakes on March 16. But the horse with the tongue-twisting name received more attention.

Mullins doesn't have a plan for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

"We're going to let the horse tell us when he's ready to go, and we'll start making plans then," he said. "He definitely earned his chance to be there, though."

Buddy Gil paid $14.60, $5.80 and $3.80 at 6-1 odds. Indian Express returned $21.60 and $7.80 at 35-1, while Kafwain paid $3.20 to show. The crowd of 32,949 helped set several pari-mutuel records, including the largest Santa Anita Derby win, place and show handle of $2,151,087.

Baffert saddled a trio of entries in his bid to win a record fifth Santa Anita Derby. Indian Express was the longest shot of his three. Kafwain, the most accomplished horse in the field, went off at 8-5, while Domestic Dispute finished fifth.

"They all ran well," Baffert said. "They didn't run very fast, so I don't know. We have to regroup."

Logician was sixth, followed by Flirt With Fortune, Iron Lad and Ocean Terrace.

Ridden by David Flores, Atswhatimtalknbout was last early, eight lengths back. Ocean Terrace, the only undefeated horse in the race, led much of the way, with Indian Express close by his side.

"When we got to the stretch, I thought he was going to change leads and keep going, but he flattened out," Flores said. "I want to stick with him. He should know what he's doing a lot better after this race."

Stevens had Buddy Gil in fifth - where he coughed because of dirt flying in his face - until they moved into contention on the outside approaching the final turn. Buddy Gil took a narrow lead at the top of the stretch. Indian Express, on the rail, fought back and the two dueled to the wire.

The victory was worth $450,000 to Buddy Gil's owners - Guenther, Donnie McFadden, Charles Johnson, Rogers Severson and Tom Schriber. They put up $6,000 to make Buddy Gil a late nominate to the Triple Crown races after he won the San Felipe.

They joined about 30 friends on a bus ride from Newport Beach to the track. Along the way, they watched replays of the San Felipe Stakes and listened to the theme from "Rocky."

"We kind of figure we're kind of a Rocky Balboa going against Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and Apolo Creed," McFadden said.

Buddy Gil is named for Tom Gilmer, a commercial real estate broker from Yorba Linda, who was nicknamed by McFadden when they were in college at the University of Redlands, east of Los Angeles.

Gilmer skipped Saturday's race to attend the Final Four in New Orleans. In another case of bad timing, Gilmer's daughter is getting married in Mexico on Kentucky Derby day.

"Obviously, we're canceling," McFadden said, smiling.

ILLINOIS DERBY: A convincing win means one thing for favorite Ten Most Wanted. "He's off for Kentucky," trainer Wallace Dollase said. Ten Most Wanted, ridden by Pat Day, came from behind over the final stretch to beat Fund of Funds by six lengths in the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

Dollase said after the race Ten Most Wanted would be shipped to Keeneland to train and will eventually be moved to Churchill Downs.

ADVENTURA STAKES: Dynever put away Supah Blitz to win the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Making only the third start of his career, Dynever rallied into contention on the last turn and won by 3 1/4 lengths. Massive was a distant third in a field of nine.

Dynever is nominated for the Triple Crown, as is Supah Blitz, but neither is likely to go to the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

Ky. Derby trail

Key prep races and winners:

1/18: Holy Bull, Oflee Wild

1/25: Lecomte, Saintly Look

2/1: San Vicente, Kafwain

2/15: F. of Youth, Trust N Luck

3/1: San Rafael, Rojo Toro

3/1: Battaglia, Champali

3/8: El Camino, Ocean Terrace

3/9: La. Derby, Peace Rules

3/15: Fla. Derby, Empire Maker

3/16: San Felipe, Buddy Gil

3/22: Lane's End, New York Hero

3/22: Rebel, Crowned King

4/5: Ill. Derby, Ten Most Wanted

4/5: Santa Anita, Buddy Gil

4/5: Aventura, Dynever

4/12: Wood, Aqueduct, 9F

4/12: Blue Grass, Keeneland, 9F

4/12: Ark. Derby, Oaklawn, 9F

4/12: California Derby, BM, 9F

4/19: Lexington, Keeneland, 8 1/2F

5/3: Ky. Derby, Churchill, 10F

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Buddy Gil punches ticket to Kentucky
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