04/11/2014 2:15PM

Jay Hovdey: Chiloquin outruns his pedigree and time

Benoit and Associates
Chiloquin tries 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course for the second time in the San Simeon.

Once the dust settles Saturday night on the last of the major Kentucky Derby trial heats – better known as the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes – the coast will be clear for a brief appreciation of an underserved category of Thoroughbred racehorse in Sunday’s $100,000 San Simeon Stakes at Santa Anita.

Chiloquin and Zimmer don’t remember what it was like to be 3. Their chances at Triple Crown glory came and went quickly, without much concern. Chiloquin, a 6-year-old son of Tribal Rule, hails from the same generation as Animal Kingdom and Shackleford, while Zimmer, an 8-year-old by Empire Maker, missed his chance to get smacked around by Mine That Bird, Summer Bird, and Rachel Alexandra.

After a while, both Zimmer and Chiloquin passed into the “old warrior” category, and there they have spent most of their time, surviving travel, physical setbacks, and a variety of racetracks to arrive in the same race Sunday with a chance to become a graded stakes winner.

It won’t be an easy task. At about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course – the same trip as Santa Anita’s version of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint – the race has attracted such specialists as Chips All In, Lakerville, and Sweet Swap.

Chiloquin tried the hill once and ran well, beating Sweet Swap for an allowance pot 13 months ago. Zimmer, who has spent most of his career in the East, has made two starts over the tricky course for his new trainer, Tom Proctor, and owner Jack Mandato. The results were a win for a $50,000 tag and a second to Sweet Swap in the Joe Hernandez Stakes.

“He’s an old horse who’s had his issues, but a real pro to be around,” Proctor said. “When he got here, Jack said he always thought he’d do well coming down the hill. After he won first time, I asked him why he hadn’t thought of that six years ago.”

Zimmer has won 6 of 24 starts, while Chiloquin has won 6 of 23. Scott Hansen, who trains Chiloquin, also owns half the horse with his breeder, Sam Asadurian.

“We’ve kind of maximized his conditions,” said Hansen, 47, who learned his trade working for John Sadler, Julio Canani, and Bobby Frankel. “It’s amazing the money he’s made” – $368,000 and change – “running so often against Cal-breds.”

It has been well documented that Southern California has no seasons, but don’t tell that to Chiloquin. Sometimes he lasts deep into the fall, even early winter. But then he needs his three or four months of hibernation before emerging in the spring, just in time to gear up for his favorite meet at Del Mar.

Chiloquin is starting early this year, having not raced since Labor Day in 2013, when he was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by Private Zone in a minor stakes at Del Mar. In his next start, Private Zone won the Vosburgh at Belmont Park.

“We had another race in mind for him after that,” Hansen said. “But then his foot started acting up – that’s the only problem he’s ever had – and then when we nuke-scanned him, he also had some uptake in his condyles.”

Translation: Chiloquin’s leg was sending signals, and Hansen got the message.

“We’ll always err on the side of caution with this horse,” Hansen said. “He’s been so good to us, he’s a horse who will never run for a tag. I mean, I bought half of him for $5,000 – he was bred to be a nickel claimer – and the chances for us to ever own part of a horse like him again are somewhere between slim and none.”

Chiloquin got 90 days of downtime in a grass paddock at Gary Broad’s Oakmont Ranch in Murrieta, where the Broad stakes winners Mr Gruff and Buzzards Bay are enjoying a well-deserved retirement. Then in February, it was back to work for Chiloquin just up the road at the freshly reopened San Luis Rey Downs Training Center, where Hansen stables a small string when he’s not running the Oakmont operation with his wife, Laura.

In some ways, the two trainers represent disparate ends of the profession’s spectrum. Proctor, 57, has a widespread public stable with horses currently in Florida, Kentucky, and California, at both Santa Anita and San Luis Rey. He entered the week with 39 winners and a 2014 purse total of more than $1.5 million, good for 10th place in the national standings. Besides Zimmer, Proctor runs three at Santa Anita on Sunday, including Customer Base in the co-featured Santa Barbara Handicap.

“As much as I enjoy training, I love to run,” Proctor said. “You can’t win unless you run.”

Hansen, on the other hand, has run only two horses in his name this year. He concedes that life in Murrieta, just south of Riverside, is a far cry from the days when he handled such major stakes winners as Tuzla and Ladies Din for Canani, or ran Frankel barns at Saratoga, Fair Grounds, or Delaware Park.

Still, he derives plenty of satisfaction from life with his family at Oakmont Ranch, where there is plenty of work in rehabilitation and in the early training of Broad’s young horses who’ll be heading to the track.

“There’s nothing like it, no matter where you are,” Hansen said. “That’s what keeps us doing this insanity every day – the thrill of winning.”