04/22/2009 11:00PM

On this day, they're all stakes horses

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It is not exactly fiddling while Rome burns, but the Kentucky Derby this year will have that feel, as an island of staggering excess and abject denial in the midst of an industry deep in worry and strife.

But hey, as the prophet said, "Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?"

The man had a point.

Hollywood Park, in conjunction with the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, will be tossing its own little "don't worry, be happy" party on Saturday with the 10th presentation of Gold Rush Day. About 100 products of the California breeding industry will sally forth in 10 events, filling the card with everything from solid stakes horses like Golden Doc A, Lady Railrider, Bel Air Sizzle, Autism Awareness, and Ten Churros, clear down to a quartet of "stakes" that would normally be called allowance or maiden events. Total purses top $1.3 million.

Doug Burge, general manager of the CTBA, acknowledges they're not fooling anyone, supplementing six legitimate Cal-bred stakes with those four of lesser caliber. That's not the point.

"No. 1, those other races always draw full fields, which the public likes," Burge said. "And with the two maiden races and two allowance races on the Gold Rush program, it allows people to run on a big day that may not necessarily be stakes horses at the time."

Together with the Sunshine Millions in January and the California Cup in October, California breeders should have nothing to complain about when it comes to significant opportunities for a real score. On Saturday, they will even have something to celebrate, when the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs on the main track is presented just a few days after Tiznow himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Georgie Boy, a legitimate Cal-bred star, was intended for the Tiznow but passed, which led Gary Stute to believe he might have a shot at a healthy chunk of the $150,000 purse with Raingear, a son of Storm Creek owned by Triple B Farms. Then darned if Neil Drysdale didn't go and enter Liberian Freighter, who beat Raingear in the Sensational Star at Santa Anita in late March.

"I thought for sure Drysdale's horse would go on the turf instead, that bum," said Stute, referring to the nine-furlong Khaled Stakes, also worth $150,000. "I've only run my horse on the turf, but he sure trains well on the dirt."

Stute of course meant the synthetics, which has shifted from the Pro-Ride of Santa Anita to the Cushion Track of Hollywood Park. At any rate, should Raingear turn the tables on Liberian Freighter, Stute won't be here to take the bows. His horse will be handled by assistant Reynaldo Solis, while Stute remains at Churchill Downs with Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem, preparing for that race on the first Saturday in May.

Papa Clem will be Stute's first Kentucky Derby starter, and so far, everything has gone like clockwork, except for the minor snag of Stute being kept out of his downtown Louisville hotel last week while some kind of festival activity took place. When word got back to the coast, members of FOG (Friends of Gary) just shook their heads, imagining the scene.

"I only had to stay outside for about 20 minutes, then they let me sit in the lobby for another 20 minutes or so until they got me my room," Stute said, making no big deal. "Someone called me from back home with the story that I went nuts and they took me away in handcuffs. Okay, so maybe sometime in my past that might have happened. But how do these racetrack rumors get started?"

It's a mystery. But as concerns the Derby, Stute has been there before. He was right-hand man to his father, Mel Stute, when they ran the beaten favorite Snow Chief in 1986.

"I liked it a lot better when I was the assistant," Stute said with a laugh. "All this organizing everything with shipping and tickets and seats for everybody. I liked just coming to the barn and dealing with the horse. Don't get me wrong, though. The money's a lot better. And the horse is doing great, so I should be in a good mood."

Preschool child can count better than dad

Every so often I like to make a glaring goof just so my daughter doesn't continue to harbor the delusion that daddy's perfect.

In fact, it was Lorelei, foaled in San Diego, who politely informed me early this morning that there are not four - as was written in Friday's edition - but five California-bred horses currently in the racing Hall of Fame, one for each finger on her 3 1/2-year old hand, and that I forgot to list Ancient Title alongside Tiznow, Native Diver, Swaps, and Emperor of Norfolk. She wasn't mad. She was just very disappointed.

There is no real excuse for this, other than the fact that Ancient Title - one of the most versatile Thoroughbreds ever dropped in the Golden State - was inducted only last year, and that the happy reality hasn't sunk in yet. Shame on me, and apologies to trainer Keith Stucki, and to Don and Lynn Meyers, who represented the family of her grandparents, William and Ethel Kirkland, so eloquently at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.