Updated on 09/16/2011 8:06AM

Global odyssey takes Derby twist

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Something to smile about: Patrick Biancone, who will move to New York later this spring, trains Santa Anita Derby contender Mayakovsky.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The question with Mayakovsky is whether he can get the distance. There is no such doubt regarding his trainer.

Patrick Biancone's life reads like an adventurer's travelogue. Born to a prominent racing family in France, he apprenticed for a Hall of Fame trainer in the United States, had brilliant success in the 1980's in his native land, journeyed to Hong Kong and was the leading trainer there, and for the last two years has been in the United States, where he now trains one of the nation's best 3-year-olds.

, however, represents more than just a chance to get to the Kentucky Derby for Biancone. When the speedy colt runs here in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, Mayakovsky will be doing his part to bring Biancone back to prominence in world racing, after a spectacularly public and unceremonious final act in Hong Kong.

Through all the drama, Biancone has retained his engaging personality, spiced with an often self-deprecating humor, that allows him to win over skeptics. And Biancone knows there are many of those. For while his skill as a trainer has won him legions of admirers the world over, he knows that the medication violations he had in Hong Kong, and the harsh penalties that led him to leave, will always hang over his head.

"The divorce in Hong Kong was not pretty, but most of the time divorces are bloody, anyway," Biancone said.

Biancone, 52, made his remarks while standing in the paddock at Santa Anita, watching Mayakovsky walk placidly behind another horse from his barn. The colt had just finished a routine gallop in preparation for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby. It was a quiet, overcast morning, and the scene was calmingly serene. No other horses were in sight, the frenetic tumult of workouts taking place on the other side of the grandstand.

"I have trained some good horses in my life," Biancone said, staring at the jet-black Mayakovsky. "At the same age - the same age - I have not had one as good as this one. He turned 3 on March 21. He is unraced at 3 so far!"

Mayakovsky has won twice in three starts, and has run dazzling races all three times. He set a track record for 5 1/2 furlongs when winning his debut at Saratoga last summer. He then finished second in the Hopeful Stakes to Came Home. A hairline fracture to a rear leg kept Mayakovsky on the sidelines until March 17, when he returned from a six-month layoff to score a front-running victory in the Gotham Stakes.

"He is an unbelievable horse," Biancone said. "I know he is unbelievable. The question is - how far is he unbelievable? He's going to be a champion something."

Biancone has a knack for developing champions. A third-generation horseman, he got his first taste of American racing when working for LeRoy Jolley in New York, before striking out on his own in France. Biancone is probably best known in this country for training All Along, the filly who in 1983 won the Arc de Triomphe, then came here and won the Turf Classic, Canadian International, and Washington D.C. International to capture America's Horse of the Year title.

The following year, Biancone won the Arc again, with Sagace. He also trained such well-known international stars as Bikala, Palace Music, Strawberry Road, and Triptych, for such prominent sportsmen as the late Allen Paulson and the Wildenstein family. Biancone credits his horses, not himself.

"A good horse can overcome your mistake. A bad horse exaggerates it," he said.

Biancone said he left France for Hong Kong in 1990 out of a sense of wanderlust. "I always thought at 40-something I would come to the United States," he said. "What was I then? 40? Yes. I went to Hong Kong because if I made mistakes, nobody would see."

His stay in Hong Kong began smashingly. Biancone twice won the Hong Kong Derby, with Helene Star and Johan Cruyff. But he became a lightning-rod for controversy, first because of his personal life.

His first marriage ended there, and in December 1994 Biancone married his current wife, the former Elaine Sung, who was Miss Hong Kong at age 17 in 1973. Biancone was living a very public life in a racing-mad territory that was going through the pains of transferring control from Great Britain to China. Here was a Frenchman, divorced and with children, marrying a Chinese woman, divorced and with a child.

Biancone refuses to name names, but he believes to this day that the racing powers in Hong Kong who took over after Great Britain ceded control to China in 1997 did not fancy him because of what was going on in his personal life.

In 1996, Biancone had his first of three medication violations, when 23 horses in his care tested positive for Sputolosin, an anti-congestant that comes in powdered form and is mixed into feed. He was fined the equivalent of $32,000. Then in 1999, horses trained by Biancone tested positive, in separate incidents, for Mephenesin, a muscle relaxant, and Boldenone, an anabolic steroid. In the United States, Boldenone is considered a Class 4 medication (measured on a scale of 1-5, with Class 5 being the least severe).

Biancone was given a 10-month suspension by Hong Kong racing authorities. The racing season in Hong Kong is 10 months long. And once the suspension was over, Biancone would have faced a relicensing hearing. He waived his right to appeal, and left.

"They were against me," Biancone said.

Ten years after he first thought he would move to America, Biancone finally arrived. He began working as an adviser for Frank Stronach in Florida, signing a one-year contract. In July 2000, Biancone obtained a work visa. That fall, finally training again, Biancone got to the Breeders' Cup, with the 2-year-old Trailthefox.

Biancone has since split, amicably, with Stronach, but the man who always has had deep-pocketed supporters has once again found a pot of gold. Michael Tabor, who with John Magnier runs one of the most prominent stables in the world, purchased Mayakovsky at a 2-year-old-in-training sale last year and gave him to Biancone.

Biancone, who now trains 18 horses, has been based in California for 19 months. But he, Elaine, and their daughter are on the move again. Biancone will relocate to New York this spring, to be closer to his clients, all of whom live in Europe. "It's just 3 1/2 hours by Concorde," he said.

It is Mayakovsky who will lead the charge east.

"The first day he was at the track, 10 people asked who he was," Biancone said. "He carries himself like this." And with that, Patrick Biancone thrust his head forward, looked up while trying to strike a regal pose, and walked proudly, straight after his horse.