07/19/2012 3:38PM

Hovdey: Callaghan hopes real Slim Shadey shows up in Eddie Read

Shigeki Kikkawa
Slim Shadey will face off against Acclamation again after losing by one length the last time the two met.

Just to be perfectly clear, Del Mar management means no disrespect by sticking one of its signature events in the throwaway third-race position on the first Saturday program of their hotly anticipated summer meet. Anyway, running the feature at three in the afternoon has its advantages. It gets the anticipation out of the way early, leaving the next three hours to get the waiter’s attention.

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Treating the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes like just another race on the undercard – instead of the Grade 1 event of rich and entertaining history that it is – seems pretty much par for the modern course of business. Sensitive to the demands of the pick six, management feels obligated to provide patrons with fields that offer more than a drop-dead single, even when that single is Acclamation, the defending Eddie Read champ and reigning Eclipse Award winner as best older male of 2011.

There is both understandable frustration and embarrassment – or at least there should be – in the fact that by post time for the Grade 1 Read only three or four of the five runners entered may answer the bell. What has been in recent years an older West Coast grass division clinging to a semblance of respectability is now in complete disarray. Only four horses ran in the 12-furlong Sunset Handicap for $100,000 at Hollywood Park last weekend. Name two of them and you win a prize.

Then again, it may be unreasonable to expect a dwindling talent pool to keep pace with the demands of a national stakes schedule for mature turf runners that’s about as well choreographed as the Oklahoma land rush.

One week before the Read, and the day before the Sunset, Belmont Park offered the $600,000 Man o’ War Stakes at 11 furlongs, while on the same afternoon Arlington Park ran both the $200,000 Arlington Handicap at 10 furlongs and the $150,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap at 12 furlongs. A week before that, Monmouth put up half a million for the 11-furlong United Nations.

At a mile and one-eighth, the Read comes off as the odd dish on such menu, since it is a rare horse these days who wants to do more than one thing in terms of either distance or surface. Acclamation is that rare horse, a Thoroughbred of unapologetic versatility who has spent the last three seasons winning races from nine to 12 furlongs over grass and synthetic. In the 2011 Read, Accamation defeated the talented Jeranimo, winner of the recent Shoemaker Mile, and figures to be odds-on to defend.

Still, there is the old-school rule that one horse should never scare you away. Simon Callaghan, for all his 29 years, is a believer in such a rule, especially since that one horse beat your horse by only a length the last time they met, which is why Callaghan will try the reliable Slim Shadey against Acclamation in the Eddie Read, even though his horse just ran in the United Nations while spending a week near the balmy New Jersey shore.

The Monmouth race was a troubled throwout for Slim Shadey, who might have won the Sunset with a hoof tied behind his back. Give Callaghan credit for at least first-level math – a half-million dollar pot was the way to go, even if it was tucked away in New Jersey.

“It’s a little hard to get there and back, but once the horse was there everything went fine, save the weather,” Callaghan said Wednesday at Del Mar. “I’ve never experienced humidity like that. In England, this here today is about as hot as it would ever get if it were a bit more close, and without the breeze.”

With a record announced opening day crowd of more than 47,000, Del Mar once again proved that a certain upscale demographic lies in wait each year to dress like extras in a Chris Brown video and tolerate lines that make Ellis Island look like the express checkout at Kroger’s.

Callaghan, the son of British trainer Neville Callaghan, was asked if English racing offered anything like Del Mar’s opening day.

“Well, Royal Ascot is quite fun,” he replied. “But with the change in dress code there this year I don’t think the majority of the women here today would be allowed to enter. And by majority I mean closer to 95 percent.”

Like any young trainer with British roots and an eye on the international scene, Callaghan was front and center at Royal Ascot last month, combining the pleasure of watching horses like Frankel, Black Caviar, and Sea Moon with the business of stocking his own stable.

“We’re in the process of buying a few who ran there,” Callaghan said. “We’ve done pretty well with that in the past. And there certainly is a niche over here we’re trying to fill.”

He was being kind. More like a gaping void than a niche. Top-quality, home-grown American grass runners like Acclamation, Man o’ War winner Point of Entry, and United Nations winner Turbo Compressor have become exceptions to what has for many years been a trend of conceding the most prestigious races in the division to horses raised abroad.

Slim Shadey is trying to be one of them. Bred in England, by Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Val Royal out of a mare by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Chief’s Crown, he had only a maiden win from 13 starts at home before owner and breeder Phil Cunningham decided to try him in California. After winning the San Marcos at Santa Anita in February, Slim Shadey went into the U.N. off consecutive seconds in the San Luis Rey (to Bourbon Bay), the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (to Little Mike) and the Whittingham Memorial (to Acclamation).

Callaghan is in the midst of just his third American season, so he is still doing a lot of things for the first time. The United Nations, for instance, marked his first venture to Monmouth. Last year at Churchill Downs he had his first Breeders’ Cup starter, the turf filly Dubawi Heights, and this year he was heading in that same direction with Belle Royale, winner of the Gamely at Hollywood Park, until she was derailed with a tendon injury.

“That was hard to take,” he confessed. “Something like that makes you appreciate the good days.”

With Slim Shadey leading the way, Saturday might be one of them.