01/21/2009 12:00AM

Dancing in Silks has live support


ARCADIA, Calif. This time last year, trainer Carla Gaines was putting the finishing touches on her pride and joy, Nashoba s Key, in anticipation of her 2008 debut in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf, to be run at Santa Anita. To that point, Nashoba s Key had lost exactly once in her career of eight races, that being a troubled fourth over terrible ground in the Breeders Cup at Monmouth Park. She was forgiven.

The Sunshine Millions looked like a piece of cake, but Nashoba s Key spotted the ambitious Quite a Bride too much ground through the first quarter-mile and ended up chasing instead of catching, settling for second. Never mind, though. Nashoba s Key came right back to win the Santa Margarita in her next start, making the game look easy again and promising more to come. Instead, she suffered fatal injuries in a stall accident less than three months later.

Gaines doesn t go a day without thinking of Nashoba s Key, which is the way it should be. Still, there is Sunshine Millions business again this year, and Gaines has a contender named Dancing in Silks in the $300,000 Sprint at Santa Anita on Saturday.

A saltier six furlongs you will not find. In Summation is in his groove, coming off a win in the local El Conejo. Georgie Boy has had two comeback races now and seems primed for Kathy Walsh. Devoted Magic, a dazzling winner Jan. 7 for Jerry Hollendorfer, is a long way from the $10,000 claimer he once was. And then there is the Calder invader Yesbyjiminny, who has merely won his last six for Eddie Plesa Jr.

Do I look silly being in that race? Gaines wondered, after getting a good look at the entries.

She talks like that all the time, but Dancing in Silks has earned a shot. He was impressive last April at Hollywood Park, winning a race on the Gold Rush program for California-breds, then won again at the Hollywood spring meet and during the summer at Del Mar. In his last start he was third, beaten a length, in the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood, but Gaines prefers to cling to the one before that, when Dancing in Silks was a solid second to Into Mischief in the Damascus Stakes on the Oct. 25 Breeders Cup undercard.

If he runs back to that race I think he ll be right there, Gaines said.

Dancing in Silks was the last foal of a 22-year-old mare named Lemhi Love, who came from the same gene pool responsible for champion Lemhi Gold and the good sprinter Rocky Marriage. Getting such a foal at her age was rare, but in her case not necessarily a surprise, since Lemhi Love s second best offspring, Love at Noon, was produced when mama was 15.

It s very unusual, though, at 22, said Ron Jex, the breeder of Dancing in Silks. I think she was rewarding me.

With good reason. Lemhi Love was part of the dispersal of movie producer Ray Stark s Thoroughbred holdings upon his death, in 2004. Anyone who has seen Funny Girl, The Way We Were, The Goodbye Girl or Casey s Shadow has seen a Ray Stark film, which is just about everybody.

Lemhi Love was carrying a Black Minnaloushe foal when she went through the Keeneland ring at the 2004 dispersal sale. Jex, who was Stark s farm manager, was saying goodbye to a lot of familiar faces that day.

My wife made me buy her, Jex said, affixing both credit and blame. She said you can t let an old mare like her go. You don t know where she d end up.

The foal, who became Dancing in Silks, was dropped back in California in 2005 and sold by Jex for $20,000 in Kentucky. He ended up in western Canada, where Ken Kinakin, his current owner, bought him at auction. The geographic circle was completed when Kinakin sent the young Dancing in Silks to Gaines in Southern California.

Jex, who is 74, has had an incredible journey of his own. In his native England he served in the Queen s Guard, escorting Queen Elizabeth II on horseback. He went on to work with Lord Derby s horses, and then for Sir Noel Murless, who trained for the noted California owner George Pope Jr. Jex came to California with the Pope horses in the late 1960s and was asked to stay for six months or so during their transition. That was 40 years ago.

Now he is retired, but not really, to the town of Los Alamos, in California s Santa Ynez Valley. When prodded, the modest Jex can make the head spin dropping the names of horses he has handled, either as youngsters or breeding stock. They include two Epsom Derby winners for Murless Crepello and St. Paddy such Pope stars as J.O. Tobin, Hill Rise and, Hill Clown, and the major winners Fabulous Notion and Cacoethes at Stark s Rancho Corral de Quati.

I was at Lord Derby s when Hyperion was there, and we also had Ribot, Jex added, which is kind of like running The Cavern in Liverpool when John, Paul, George, and Ringo were in the house.

All in all, not bad for a dead guy, since Jex was referred to last year as the late in a trade magazine reporting on Dancing in Silks. Now, fully resurrected, he s got a shot to be the breeder of a Sunshine Millions winner.

My wife got quite a few calls, Jex said with a laugh. I m just glad they dug me up. I wouldn t have wanted to miss this.