08/05/2009 12:00AM

Holthus set to complete the cycle

Four-Footed Fotos
Pure Clan, with Julien Leparoux up, wins the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap, adding to the accomplishments of her trainer, Bob Holthus.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Bob Holthus once was a mainstay of the Chicago circuit, but that might as well have been several lifetimes ago. Waves of horse trainers have come and gone since Holthus spent the better part of 11 years at Arlington Park and Hawthorne in the 1970s and early 1980s, a time when the International Festival of Racing was only a twinkle in someone's eye.

There is a remarkable life-comes-full-circle aspect, then, to what Holthus will be doing here Saturday when he saddles Pure Clan as the favorite for the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington. The race will be the first time that Holthus has run a horse in the prestigious Festival, a rare lapse on a Midwestern resume that has taken no fewer than 57 years to compile.

Indeed, Holthus is usually quick to remind that it was on June 25, 1952, that he took out his trainer's license in his native Nebraska, one day after his 18th birthday. The years that have passed mostly have been good to him, not counting the "about five," as best he can recall, heart procedures he has endured, the most recent being the insertion of stents this spring.

"I'm feeling good again," Holthus, 75, said Wednesday from Arkansas, where he was closing on the sale of the Hot Springs-area farm he had owned for 40 years. "I wasn't doing too well there for a while, but there's a better flow now."

While Holthus missed some mornings at the barn at his primary base at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., it was his longtime assistant, Betsy Couch, who oversaw the steady progress that has made Pure Clan one of the preeminent turf fillies in North America. Always a precocious type, having gone 4 for 4 as a 2-year-old, Pure Clan has since matured into a turf pro, winning the Grade 1 American Oaks in California at 3, then starting her 4-year-old campaign with a pair of sharp efforts, the most recent being a last-to-first score in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap four weeks ago over the Arlington turf.

"As a 3-year-old, she still was a big baby," said Julien Leparoux, the standout jockey who has ridden the stretch-running filly in 9 of her 13 lifetime starts, including the Modesty. "She kept maturing and kept getting better. Hopefully she will run the same race as last time. If she does, she's got a big shot."

Pure Clan is owned by her breeder, Lewis Lakin, the Chicago businessman who sold partial interest in the filly to the IEAH syndicate in the spring of 2008, then bought it back in the fall. She is one of eight fillies and mares entered in the $750,000 Beverly D., a 1 3/16-mile turf race that often proves pivotal in the filly-mare turf division.

For Leparoux, whose regular mounts in 2009 also include the reigning divisional champion, Forever Together, the Beverly D. always will have a soft spot in his heart. That's because his winning ride aboard Gorella in the 2006 Beverly D. was the first Grade 1 victory of his nascent career.

"I remember all of that race and how fun it was after," he said this week from Saratoga, recalling that his mother was there, visiting from France, as well as his girlfriend, Michelle Yu, and others close to him.

"I remember a lot - and not too much, actually."

Holthus, for his part, surely has forgotten more than most trainers know. Intentional or not, he has practiced this motto for years: When you're through changing, you're through. Rarely one to yearn for the halcyon days of yore, he has an adaptability that has had much to do with his perpetual success - most notably, his particularly good fortune of recent years. His list of accomplished stakes winners is an exhaustive one - Proper Reality, Bay Phantom, Talent Show, Overpeer, Potentiality, The Happy Hopper, Mama's Pro - but arguably the two best horses of his career have been Lawyer Ron, the standout 3-year-old of 2006, and Pure Clan, already an earner of nearly $1.2 million.

Pure Clan, who will make the third start in her form cycle Saturday, "has trained really well since the Modesty, and I expect her to run a big race," said Holthus, who will be flown from Louisville with his wife, Bonnie, on Lakin's private jet Saturday morning into nearby Chicago Executive (formerly Palwaukee) Airport.

While Holthus obviously has more years of training behind him than ahead, and winning the Beverly D. would be one of his greatest victories in more than a half-century in the game, it wouldn't necessarily mark a symbolic curtain call on the major stages of racing. If he has his way, the career circle still won't be complete . . . not quite yet.

"As long as I'm healthy enough, and people keep sending me good horses, I'm going to stick around," he said.