05/26/2006 12:00AM

Gamely sure had a nose for racing


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It was only after serious deliberation that the people running Hollywood Park 30 years ago decided to change the name of the Long Beach Handicap to the Gamely.

After all, Long Beach was a local community of considerable importance, with its deep-water harbor and ports of call serving as a center for international shipping and commerce. Culturally, Long Beach was more in tune with the working-class heartland than the Hollywood glitz of neighboring L.A., which is probably why columnist Jim Murray once referred to the town as Iowa's seacoast.

Champions Susan's Girl and Typecast won the Long Beach, as well as Max Gluck's durable Manta. Fortunately, with the name change in 1976, the quality of subsequent casts did not suffer. Estrapade, Sabin, Kilijaro, Hollywood Wildcat, Possibly Perfect, Miss Josh, and Fiji are only a few of the notable winners who jump off the page. Monday's running of the Gamely, featuring Eternal Melody, Argentina, Ticker Tape, and Shining Energy, could add another memorable name to the list.

Even so, they will have to grow wings to measure up to Gamely herself. A foal of 1964, from the same Thoroughbred crop that produced Damascus and Dr. Fager, Gamely was a physical specimen of grand proportions. Wayne Harris, her most successful jockey, referred to her as an Amazon, putting her in the Xena category of body types. Arthur Hancock, who knew her as a young filly, concurred.

"She was a big, masculine filly - strong, good bone, and strong shoulder - built more like a colt," said Hancock, the son of A.B. "Bull" Hancock who worked at his father's Claiborne Farm, where Gamely was foaled.

"The first thing that comes to mind about her, though, is that she had a Roman nose," Hancock said. "And they always said horses with Roman noses could run."

Gamely, a daughter of Bold Ruler, was bred and raced for Claiborne and William Haggin Perry and trained by Hall of Famer Jim Maloney. She criss-crossed the country through three campaigns, 1967-69, running 26 times in California and 15 times in New York and New Jersey.

Gamely won all the right races and carried weight when it meant a whole lot more than it does today - 11 times in handicaps under 125 pounds or more. Of her 13 stakes wins, five were nailed on the main track at Hollywood Park, including the 1968 Vanity Handicap under 131 pounds. She won the Santa Monica, Santa Maria, and Santa Margarita handicaps at Santa Anita, as well as two Beldames, the Diana, the Alabama, and the Test in the East. When pitched against the boys, Gamely did more than hold her own, with a victory in the '68 Inglewood Handicap over Rising Market and seconds to Horse of the Year Dr. Fager in the '68 Californian and to champion Nodouble in the '69 Santa Anita Handicap.

One thing Gamely did not do was win on grass - although she hit the board in all three tries - which makes the nine-furlong Gamely Handicap on the turf a little bit of a stretch. Still, if Belmont can have its Man o' War on grass, then anything goes. And it is more important to have a race named for Gamely than to worry about how it fits in her resume.

So enthralled was Perry over his grand mare that he called his breeding operation The Gamely Corp. The sad irony, though, is that Gamely herself was not much of a breeding operation. Before her death at age 11 from a ruptured stomach, she had only one foal of note, the English 2-year-old champion Cellini, and one other unraced daughter, Gambling.

Gambling, by Round Table, had plenty of chances to continue Gamely's line with visits to such stallions as Forli, Coastal, Tom Rolfe, and Conquistador Cielo. She had four daughters, but only one of them produced a single named foal. One generation later, Gamely's direct female line was gone.

This was hard to believe, considering her own background. Gamely was out of the My Babu mare Gambetta, a half sister to an all-star collection of full brothers and sisters that included Ridan, Lt. Stevens, Thong, and Moccasin, voted 1965 Horse of the Year in at least one poll.

"My father always thought that for hard-raced mares it was more difficult for them to become a good broodmare," Hancock said. "That's what the old-timers thought, and they must have had good reason. I remember one time looking at Moccasin and Thong standing together in the same field. My father said that Thong might make a better broodmare, because a lot of times a full sister to a great racemare will do better than the great racemare herself."

It was probably a push. Moccasin produced seven stakes winners, including Apalachee, while Thong threw major stakes winners King Pellinore and Thatch as well as Special, the dam of Nureyev.

"Dad felt hard-raced mares were an uphill battle," Hancock said. "But there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. And you know, most mares aren't cut out to be good broodmares, anyway. As for the Roman nose, though, I think he was probably right. Didn't Man o' War have a Roman nose?"