01/10/2013 4:07PM

Hovdey: San Fernando has Peruvian touch courtesy of Drysdale

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Neil Drysdale took over Fly Lexus Fly with an eye toward the American classics, but physical issues intervened.

It would be pummeling a dead something to belabor the obvious and whine about the trio deemed as worthy finalists for the 2012 Eclipse Award in the so-called glamor division for 3-year-old colts. Let’s just say all three are gearing up for stud duty as 4-year-old stallions and leave it at that.

At least they won the right races. Among them, I’ll Have Another, Union Rags, and Bodemeister won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, and Arkansas Derby, a collection of events that took place during an eight-week window between April 7 and June 9. Then they were gone. If it is true most sports fans have a much shorter attention span these days, horse racing is the game for them.

The causes are many for such attrition, and slippery to pin down. The effect, though, is writ large and clear in the field for a race like the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes, to be run on Saturday at Santa Anita. Of the 10 entered, the only winner of a graded stakes event in North America is Handsome Mike, who upset the million-dollar Pennsylvania Derby for his only win in eight starts last year. This would be the definition of good timing.

As a refresher, the San Fernando is a race for 4-year-olds and leads, in theory, to the longer, slightly richer Strub Stakes next month. In practice it has become just another 1 1/16-mile main-track event, clinging to its Grade 2 rating through the good graces of recent winners like Papa Clem, Awesome Gem, and Tiznow, as well as second- and third-place finishers such as Midnight Lute, Brother Derek, Dakota Phone, Orientate, Cat Thief, and Tiago.

In addition to Tiznow, the San Fernando has been won by Hall of Famers Round Table, Gun Bow, Buckpasser, Damascus, Ancient Title, Spectacular Bid, Precisionist, Best Pal, and Silver Charm. True, they would have made it to the Hall without the San Fernando, but it didn’t hurt.

The 10 entered for the 2013 version approach the race with more modest aspirations. They just want to be taken seriously as older competitors, because there is a long season ahead and plenty of money to be won. Fed Biz gets one more chance to reprise his gutty El Cajon from last summer over recent Malibu winner Jimmy Creed. Battle Force is a proven grass horse with a dirt pedigree taking a shot. Tribal Jewel makes his stakes debut on a roll of three good efforts over three very different tracks. And Handsome Mike – well, he’ll always have Parx.

Neil Drysdale is wading into this Mulligan stew with Fly Lexis Fly, a colt of high hopes and oddball portfolio. How else do you describe a $5,000 Kentucky-bred yearling purchase who went on to win two-thirds of the Peruvian Triple Crown while still a 2-year-old by both the calendar and his own body clock, who was sent back to his native land with the intention of trying the American Triple Crown, and who instead has had to settle for four starts with widely varying degrees of success, so far.

“Yes, he’s been around the world a bit,” said Drysdale, understating to a fault.

Horses bred in South America usually hit the ground in August, September, and October and celebrate their universal birthdays on July 1, which means the classic events for 3-year-olds in a nation like Peru commence in the fall. As a January foal of 2009, Fly Lexis Fly was not giving away as much in growth as most North American horses would have, but still it was an amazing piece of work.

Fly Lexis Fly lost the 1,600-meter Peruvian 2000 Guineas by three-quarters of a length in September of 2011, then won the next two legs of that nation’s Triple Crown at distances of a metric 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles. The Derby Nacional, which he won by nearly 11 lengths, was run on Nov. 13, 2011.

After that there was every reason for owner Oscar Pena to think he might be able to repatriate Fly Lexis Fly and take a shot at the American classics as well.

“That was the intention,” Drysdale said. “But he had some physical issues we had to deal with after arriving here. So we just waited until the summer.”

Upon his return during Del Mar, Fly Lexis Fly continued to play with the older kids. His best finish, though, was against his own age group in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs last September when he finished second to Bourbon Courage, just nosing out Master Rick for the place.

“He ran well in Louisiana, but he couldn’t handle the track in Chicago,” Drysdale said, referring to the Hawthorne Gold Cup. “But that happens to a lot of horses. He was all over the shop that day.”

Fly Lexis Fly followed up his so-so fifth at Hawthorne with a third from way back in a 1 1/16-mile allowance event at Hollywood Park on Dec. 1.

“He didn’t run that badly the other day, but the distance is still too short for him,” Drysdale said.

Bear in mind Drysdale also said that about the long-winded Argentine mare Miss Match not long before he sent her out to win the nine-furlong Santa Margarita in 2011, at 45-1. When reminded he laughed.

“I do like this horse very much,” Drysdale said. “He’s attractive, well made, and I think he’s developing and strengthening. I would hope he has a very good year as a 4-year-old.”

On paper, Fly Lexis Fly does not look like he will be among the San Fernando favorites, and yet he has retained the services of the meet’s leading man, the Peruvian native Rafael Bejarano.

“They got along very well last time,” Drysdale said. “And if he wants he can just chatter away with the horse.”