08/22/2013 2:34PM

Jay Hovdey: Can’t count Richard’s Kid out yet

Benoit and Associates
Victory by Richard’s Kid in the July 26 Cougar II averted an end to his racing career.

Richard’s Kid is more of a brand name than a race horse. Years from now, there will be Richard’s Kid tribute bands, Richard’s Kid renunions, Richard’s Kid package tours of all the places Richard’s Kid has played.

Over parts of seven different seasons Richard’s Kid has raced 46 times at 10 different racetracks for four different trainers and four different ownerships. There have been 19 jockeys aboard Richard’s Kid at one time or another, including Hall of Famers Mike Smith and Calvin Borel, two guys named Garcia, and Rosie Napravnik, who rode Richard’s Kid in his first race at age 2 and in his 45th race at age 8.

Certain facts about Richard’s Kid have become part of the lore. For starters, he is an “entire” horse, in the parlance of the breeding shed, which to the untrained ear sounds as if he’s properly equipped with a leg in each corner and both head and tail intact. In fact, this merely means Richard’s Kid, even at his age, has retained possession of his originally issued reproductive plumbing, and so far has not abused the privilege.

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The “Richard” in Richard’s Kid comes from his first trainer, Richard “Dickie” Small, a Mid-Atlantic legend who has won some of the best races you can win, with runners like Broad Brush, Concern, and Caesar’s Wish. The “Kid” comes from his sire, Lemon Drop Kid, winner of the Travers, the Whitney, the Woodward, and the Belmont Stakes.

Richard’s Kid has done his daddy proud, with six wins and nine seconds or thirds in graded stakes company, good enough for $2.4 million in earnings. The bulk of that cash was accumulated while in the barn of Bob Baffert and racing for either Arnold and Ellen Zetcher of Boston and L.A. or Sheikh Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai. Since the summer of 2012, Richard’s Kid has raced for a partnership led by Paul Boghossian that includes Dave Kenney, Dan Kramer, Steve Keh, and Mark Verge.

Del Mar probably could hold a Pacific Classic without Richard’s Kid, but it wouldn’t feel the same. On Sunday, the old boy will run in the premier event of the summer meet for the fourth time in the last five runnings. Richard’s Kid won the Classic in 2009, beating a stout field that included Santa Anita Handicap winner Einstein and Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip. Then in 2010 he took a second Classic over the European Group 1 winner Crowded House and subsequent Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Dakota Phone.

Richard’s Kid spent the summer of 2011 with his new owner in Dubai doing who knows what, while Acclamation defeated Twirling Candy in the Classic. Then, last summer, Richard’s Kid was third to Dullahan and Game On Dude in his first start for trainer Doug O’Neill and his latest group of owners. He was not embarrassed, losing by just over three lengths with a steady rally through the stretch.

Horses like Richard’s Kid who still show a glimmer of class at an advanced racing age are few and far between. Pleasantly Perfect, who was 6 in 2004, has been the oldest winner in the 22 runnings of the Pacific Classic, while Einstein and River Keen were 7 when they finished second.

When a stable has such a creature, though, they are usually treated like royalty. Richard’s Kid occupies the prime stall in which O’Neill’s 2006 Classic winner Lava Man lived at Del Mar, hard by the stable office and in the thick of the barn’s humming activity. Assistant trainer Leandro Mora probably walks past Richard’s Kid 50 times a day, each time with a feeling of admiration.

“Such a professional,” Mora said. “Sound, happy, never a worry.”

He didn’t even bother to touch wood.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop,” O’Neill said. “Like human athletes, when they’re so good, they don’t know when to call it a day. Probably for the connections of an older horse of quality it’s hard to give up the feeling of being part of their great competitive days.

“The good older horses I’ve had we’ve had to retire more for physical reasons,” O’Neill went on. “Lava Man had his ankles. Sky Jack had two knee surgeries and colic twice. I don’t think I’ve ever had a top-quality older horse I’ve had to retire because he just stopped trying.”

As recently as last month, Richard’s Kid was in jeopardy of being the exception. Subsequent to the 2012 Pacific Classic, he ran nine times for O’Neill without coming close to a winning race, his best effort being a third-place finish to Successful Dan and Boisterous in the Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland. Soundness was not an issue, and his behavior was never sulky or studdish. He was simply no longer competitive. The Richard’s Kid brand was deteriorating.

“If he would have come up with a non-effort in the Cougar he was done,” O’Neill said. “Because even in his younger days he would throw in clunkers all over, even in Dubai, but the one consistent thing is that he always shows up at Del Mar.”

And he did, one more time. Richard’s Kid won the July 26 Cougar II Handicap, a Grade 3 event, by half a length at the end of the mile and a half over the Polytrack. He’d won the race before, and it was fitting to win it again, since the race was named for a champion, an “entire” horse, who had one of his best years at the age of 7.

“I don’t know if you can say the old Richard’s Kid was ‘back’ with his race in the Cougar,” O’Neill added. “But he was back to Del Mar. And as far as his chances in the Pacific Classic goes, that’s what seems to count.”