06/23/2016 2:10PM

Hovdey: Some great ones rolled best at 7 and 10


On Saturday out in smoky Los Angeles, the $300,000 Triple Bend at seven furlongs will serve as a warm-up act for the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita at 10 furlongs. Both are rated by the American Graded Stakes Committee as Grade 1 events.

For purposes of programming, however, the Triple Bend is merely the warm-up act. The Hank Kingsley to the Gold Cup’s Larry Sanders. The Triple Bend’s seven furlongs will require 80 seconds or so of hard work by the eight older horses entered. Chances are that its impact won’t linger much longer.

And that is too bad because the Triple Bend once was considered a viable West Coast steppingstone in the series of races leading up to the Gold Cup. Then it was called the Los Angeles Handicap, and the Gold Cup had “Hollywood” attached since they both were part of the Hollywood Park summer stakes schedule.

In 1959, Hillsdale, the pride of Indiana, won the Los Angeles Handicap and then four more stakes during the Hollywood meet, climaxed by a victory in the Gold Cup.

Triple Bend himself was already the winner of the 10-furlong Santa Anita Handicap when he set a world record of 1:19 4/5 while taking the Los Angeles Handicap in 1972, which is pretty much the recipe for having a race renamed in your honor.

Hillsdale and Triple Bend belong to that group of superb racehorses with comprehensive careers who had both the speed and depth to win major events at seven and 10 furlongs. The list is not that long, but it is substantial.

Dr. Fager always leads the way, as he should. His 10-furlong victories included the New Hampshire Sweepstakes Classic, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, and the Suburban Handicap, under 132 pounds. He won the seven-furlong Cowdin at 2 and defeated older horses in the seven-furlong Vosburgh at 3. At 4, Dr. Fager won the seven-furlong Roseben under 130 pounds and the Vosburgh again, this time carrying 139 pounds and setting an Aqueduct record. Case closed.

Both Sherrill Ward and Frank Whiteley used seven-furlong events either to bring the mountainous Forego back from a layoff or to keep him sharp between longer assignments. His six major wins at 10 furlongs speak for themselves, but at seven furlongs Forego won the Vosburgh under 131 pounds and the Carter carrying 134. That was a lot of horse to get moving in a minute and 21 seconds.

Take your pick among the rest of the elite bunch.

Hall of Famer Ancient Title won all seven of his seven-furlong stakes dates in the mid-1970s, plus the 10-furlong Hollywood Gold Cup and the Del Mar Handicap, just shy of the full 10 furlongs.

Ancient Title’s California-bred role model was Native Diver, another Hall of Famer who won three Hollywood Gold Cups at 10 furlongs and six major stakes at seven furlongs, including an unforgettable duel with Viking Spirit in the 1965 Los Angeles Handicap that resulted in a world record.

Native Diver got his inspiration from his damsire, Devil Diver, a Hall of Famer who did it all. In addition to 10-furlong scores in the Brooklyn, Whitney, and Suburban, Devil Diver won the seven-furlong American Legion at Belmont under 136 pounds. His victory in the Carter, with George Woolf in the saddle, was hailed as one of most exciting races of 1943, even coming one week after Count Fleet won the Triple Crown.

Hall of Famer Ack Ack, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup, took the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap, a division of the seven-furlong Bahamas Stakes, and was moved up to first on the disqualification of Right or Wrong after dropping the 1970 running of the Los Angeles Handicap by a nose. He was giving away 12 pounds.

Bold Ruler is recalled primarily as a stallion of monumental impact. He was also a racehorse who could scurry with the seven-furlong rabbits to win the Bahamas, Vosburgh (under 130), and Carter (under 135) and soar with the 10-furlong eagles to take the Trenton, Suburban, and Monmouth handicaps.

David Hofmans will be running Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin against seven familiar faces at the Gold Cup’s 10 furlongs. But if he had to, the trainer thinks his horse would be tough in the Triple Bend’s seven furlongs as well. He had one like that before.

In 1996, Hofmans guided Alphabet Soup through a second-half campaign that began with a victory in the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien at Del Mar and ended with an upset of Cigar in the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine. The trainer was asked what it took for a horse to excel at both distances.

“I think mostly it’s determination and intelligence,” Hofmans said. “Alphabet Soup had both. Melatonin has both. Both horses were not the best around, but they won races because they try so damn hard, and they’re smart enough to understand what their riders want them to do, depending on how the race shapes up.”

Melatonin sprinted when he was a younger horse, before rebounding from ailments and losing his testicles. He followed his Santa Anita Handicap win with a game second to Effinex in the Oaklawn Handicap.

“He’s rebounded from his trip,” Hofmans said. “We’re very happy with him right now, with his weight and his training. It’s a tough race, but the Gold Cup has been the goal. That’s where the Santa Anita Handicap winner belongs.”