12/22/2016 2:40PM

Hovdey: Lynch bullish on Lightstream in La Brea


Never mind what the dateline says. The opening of Santa Anita Park each Dec. 26 marks a new beginning. Tough losses retreat into the mists of last summer. Disappointments give way to hopes for what comes next. All that, and they give you a free calendar, just in case the message isn’t clear.

Brian Lynch can be forgiven if he would like the magic of 2016 to last a little longer, or at least until the seventh race is in the books Monday afternoon. That is when Lightstream, the queen of his public stable, will go postward in the $300,000 La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs.

The Grade 1 La Brea shares the opening-day marquee with the traditional Malibu Stakes, a race won in the past by the likes of Round Table, Buckpasser, Damascus, and Spectacular Bid. For them, seven furlongs was hardly slumming with sprinters. They could do it because of their consummate class, and because it was a race worth winning.

So is the younger La Brea, which has been around since 1978 and won by Terlingua, Family Style, Very Subtle, Hidden Lake, Spain, and Indian Blessing. Lynch send Lightstream from Florida to camp in the barn of his pal Ron McAnally, where the memories of La Brea winners Affluent, Brought to Mind, and Savannah Slew still linger in the rafters.

Lightstream is a bay daughter of Harlan’s Holiday with a full-bodied blaze that doesn’t quit until it hits her upper lip. Lynch calls her a “tank,” which is also how she runs, grinding over the opposition with a finishing attitude best decribed as relentless.

“She’s 16-3 and carries plenty of body,” Lynch said from Florida before getting on a plane to the Coast. “I’ve never weighed her, but you’d be happy with her if you stuck her on the scale. You’d never think she wasn’t eating enough.”

Racing only at 3, Lightstream has won 4 of 6, losing only the Mother Goose when third to Off the Tracks and the Test Stakes by less than a length to the surprising Paola Queen. In her last race, the Raven Run at Keeneland in October, Lightstream broke quickly from the 12-hole, after which Julien Leparoux sat quietly while the pacemakers took over.

“Julien knows her best,” Lynch said. “She’s had a bit of a hiccup in a few of her starts coming out of the gate, so I think he was just happy to see her break well. After that he just left her alone and let her place herself where she was comfortable. Obviously, she was.”

She came flying late to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

Lightstream is owned by Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains partnership, with the L.A.-based Little Red Feather syndicate recently purchasing a minority share. The Kumin connection is among a growing list of enthusiastic patrons coming to the Lynch public stable in the wake of his role as Frank Stronach’s main Woodbine trainer.

“When Frank releases you it’s a drop-kick and a punt to find your own way,” Lynch said. “Fortunately, most of my staff stayed with me and made the transition.”

Lynch won the 2015 Queen’s Plate with Stronach’s Shaman’s Ghost, who was later sent to Jimmy Jerkens. Lynch has enjoyed considerable success with Shadwell Mile winner Grand Arch for Jim and Susan Hill of Margaux Farm, with the multiple stakes winner Heart to Heart for Canadian owner Terry Hamilton, and with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance for John Amerman, an owner from Lynch’s past association as an assistant to Bobby Frankel.

The Breeders’ Cup triumph was a happy homecoming for Lynch, a native of Australia and former bull rider who cut his teeth with a small public stable in California before signing on with Frankel.

“I look to Bobby every day in gratitude,” Lynch said. “I was training a nice bunch of horses for Golden Eagle Farm when John Mabee died, and Bobby saw the writing on the wall.”

Experience riding bulls is not required as a Thoroughbred trainer, but it never hurts.

“You certainly have a mindset where you become a bit fearless, and you’re not frightened to believe in yourself,” Lynch said. “If you’re faced with a crisis, you call on some intestinal fortitude that gets you through that stuff. I mean, it could always be worse. You could be sitting on a 2,000-pound Brahma bull.”

His first good horse was Riva Ranger, who won the 1995 Graduation Stakes at Del Mar – then suffered an irreparable ankle injury only yards after the finish line.

“That was certainly growing pains,” Lynch said. “You watch over them as best you can, but you never know with livestock. It’s like bull riding. You’re going to get the horn sooner or later. You’ve just got to hope you don’t get it through the head.”

Lynch had planned a winter break for Lightstream, but her post-Keeneland demeanor suggested otherwise. The La Brea suddenly made sense.

“We always felt she was gifted with plenty of God-given talent,” Lynch said. “When we started training her as a 2-year-old she flaked a little piece off an ankle, at a stage when she’d already had a couple of good half-miles. We cleaned up the ankle and gave her a little bit of time. Now, let’s see if she can put it all together on the right day and win that Grade 1 race.”