07/02/2010 12:00AM

A British threat in the American Handicap


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A former management team at Hollywood Park once presented a Fourth of July fireworks display that spooked a number of horses on the backstretch and sent several running loose and goofy into the night. I guess it's the patriotic thought that counts.

Combustibles aside, Independence Day action on the racetrack should be more than enough to satisfy even the most pyrotechnically hungry fans. Traditionally, the holiday has brought out racing's greatest stars.

Kelso won twice and was second twice in the four Fourth of July Suburban Handicaps at Aqueduct between 1961 and 1964, carrying 133, 132, 133, and 131 in the process. Native Dancer won the 1953 Dwyer on the Fourth. Dr. Fager left Damascus in the holiday dust winning the 1968 Suburban, and Swaps, Citation, Native Diver, and John Henry all won runnings of American Handicap at Hollywood Park. Forego was on his way to his first of three Horse of the Year titles when he won the Brooklyn Handicap on July 4, 1974, and Ghostzapper spent his holiday in 2004 inhaling the Tom Fool.

Exterminator, famous for his well-rounded record of 50 wins from 100 starts, racked up one of those 50 on July 4, 1921, in the Independence Handicap at the original Latonia Race Track in northern Kentucky. Old Bones carried 130 pounds that day, going 1 1/2 miles.

Seabiscuit raced far and wide between 1935 and 1940, hitting 23 racetracks during his six seasons of coast-to-coast campaigns. He made only one appearance in Chicago, however, and that was on July 4, 1938, in the Stars and Stripes Handicap at nine furlongs. Seabiscuit was asked to carry 130 pounds over a heavy track, circumstances that gave his people second thoughts. But a big holiday crowd was eager to see the star in action, so Seabiscuit ran . . . and finished second, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by War Minstrel, who carried 107.

The Stars and Stripes was once among a reliable package of major stakes contested over the Fourth of July holiday, along with the American at Hollywood, the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park, and either the Suburban or the Brooklyn Handicap in New York.

Easy Goer made the final appearance of his Hall of Fame career winning the Suburban on July 4, 1990. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, celebrated the holiday in 1988, when Personal Ensign won the Molly Pitcher by eight.

One of Discovery's 19 starts during his 1935 Horse of the Year season came in the Stars and Stripes. He won by six, but that was nowhere near as impressive as the nose by which Bold Ruler, carrying 134, defeated Clem, carrying 109, in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 4, 1958. One year later, the Fourth of July gave reigning Horse of the Year Round Table a chance to win the Stars and Stripes at Washington Park. So he did, under 132.

Named as they are, the Stars and Stripes and Molly Pitcher (she was a Revolutionary War heroine) would seem to be irrevocably tied to the special celebration. So naturally, both races are now run in August. The Suburban this year is on July 3, which works just fine, and the American is on Sunday, right where it belongs.

Irish Eoin Harty will have no problem if he manages to win the American. He wears his U.S. citizenship proudly, usually disguised during training hours beneath a New York Yankees ballcap (through Thursday, up by 1 1/2 in the AL East). But that's his cross to bear.

Harty is running Glowing Praise, a British gelding owned by John Fretwell, in a wide-open version of the $150,000 American. Glowing Praise has yet to win in four American starts, but to disregard his chances could be dangerous. Harty was the guy who bagged the $250,000 Shoemaker Mile on Memorial Day, when Victor's Cry shaded 1:33 at odds of 21-1.

"Glowing Praise will run really well," Harty said. "He's going to be right there in the thick of it."

If Harty is right, he won't be there to enjoy the view. He was speaking from the deck of a fishing boat moored somewhere off Prince of Wales Island, along the southern tail of Alaska, where Harty and a band of likeminded fishheads journey each summer to thin the herds, or schools. Harty said the fishing has been great, but it sounded like a story to me.

He is obviously in contact with the working world, however, and Harty did leave explicit instructions with his California crew that Glowing Praise should, in fact, do his best to win the American.

"This is a very hard-knocking gelding," Harty said. "He must have been a tiger before they cut him, because he's one tough sonofabitch. Usually, it takes a gelding some time to bounce back from a race. They'll lose some weight. Their hair will turn. Not this guy. The more you throw at him the more he wants."

In his last start, Glowing Praise finished a close enough third in the Dallas Turf Championship at Lone Star. That was Memorial Day, when Harty was otherwise occupied at Hollywood Park winning the Shoemaker. Before that, the English horse was a similarly decent third at Hollywood in the Inglewood Handicap.

"He runs with a 'For Sale' sign on him," Harty said. "His owner sends me a couple horses that he thinks will show some good form here and hopes to move them on. Unfortunately, in the economic climate we're dealing with, nobody's buying. Two years ago this horse would have been snapped up in a minute.

"I don't particularly want to lose him," Harty said. "He's the kind of horse that makes the job interesting. And he could go ahead and win the race Sunday without me being there. It wouldn't hurt my feelings at all."