01/03/2013 4:53PM

Jay Hovdey: Harty has seen promising colts coming and going


It really doesn’t do a horse any good to win the Sham Stakes, at least in terms of making a mark in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont Stakes later on. Then again, it does no harm to try.

Named for Secretariat’s favorite whipping boy, the Sham began life in 2001 as a rare 1 1/8-mile early season event for 3-year-olds who seemed in it for the long game. Bob and John, the winner in 2006, later took the Wood Memorial, while 2008 winner Colonel John bagged both the Santa Anita Derby and Travers. The fact that neither was a factor along the Triple Crown trail should not be held against them, but that is where history is made.

At the same time, it is interesting to note that beaten colts in the Sham have included Derby winner Giacomo and Belmont winner Empire Maker, as well as Borrego, who grew up to win the Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Since 2010 it began shrinking from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles to its current two-turn mile, which has drawn a field of six for Saturday’s running at Santa Anita. Tapizar won in 2011, thought about what he’d done for a year or so, then won the 2012 running of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Out of Bounds won the 2012 Sham for Sheikh Mohammed and Eoin Harty and looked good doing it. But he was a tease, and by March he was injured and out of a job.

“He’s in Dubai,” Harty reported this week. “And I would think he’s getting close to running. I last saw him in September in Kentucky. He looked super and was already working before he left for Dubai.”

As one of Sheikh Mohammed’s many trainers, dotting the globe like Hyatt hotels, Harty has grown accustomed to the idea that horses, even the good ones, come and go. When he said farewell to Out of Bounds last spring, after surgery was performed to stabilize a low, barely perceptible fracture in a cannon bone, he knew there was no certainty he would be back in California this winter to run in races like the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds and the Santa Anita Handicap for all comers.

“On the traumatic injury scale it was a nothing, a one-screw job,” Harty said. “It was just a case of bad timing as far as his 3-year-old season was concerned.”

Harty has bade farewell to more than his share of young Sheikh Mohammed horses. Tempera, E Dubai, Ruler’s Court, and a host of others got their early training and racing with Harty in California before moving through the Dubai system to other trainers and locales.

The best known among them was undoubtedly Street Cry, trained by Harty to finish second in the 2000 runnings of the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. After that, he was off to Dubai, where he won the 2002 World Cup and spent enough time in America to win the 2002 Stephen Foster and finish second in the Whitney.

As a stud, Street Cry sired Zenyatta, which should be enough, but he also has had a respectable collection of mere mortals, among them Derby winner Street Sense, the Queen’s pet Charlton House, Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, and sprint star Street Boss. There is a reason he stands for $100,000 a pop.

Harty compares every good horse he’s ever had to Street Cry, which is why he is being quietly hopeful about the future of the 3-year-old Footbridge, who made his competitive debut in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race on Santa Anita’s opening day, Dec. 26.

Footbridge finished third, beaten about five lengths, and closing ground as he did it. This accomplished a few things, none of them lost on followers of late-developing classic colts. Footbridge can claim a race as a 2-year-old, which continues to weigh heavily on the actuarial tables of Derby contenders. He gets to run against maidens again, never a bad thing. And, as far as unreasonable expectations are concerned, at least the pressure is off for an unbeaten career.

“When you’ve got a horse like this, the glass is always half full,” Harty said.

Harty is a pretty sober judge of his livestock, though, and for a native Irishman he has a surprisingly tight rein on his emotions. If he thinks Footbridge can pick up where Out of Bounds left off, that’s good enough for now.

“It was late September when he showed up in the barn, but those good ones get ready quickly,” Harty said. “Street Cry won his maiden race early at Del Mar and was the World Cup winner at four. You can tell pretty much off the bat if they can run or not. The others come around gradually, and you keep making excuses for them. But this guy’s gone right to it – three-eighths, a half, three-quarters, to the gate – everything we’ve asked. And I’ve yet to make him blow.”

January is never too late to get a good one going anymore if races like the Kentucky Derby and Belmont are in the cards. While working for Bob Baffert, Harty had plenty of experience on the trail with Cavonnier, Silver Charm, and Real Quiet, and has been on his own hook with Colonel John, who was a troubled sixth in the Derby, and his brother Mr. Hot Stuff.

Still, it is not usually the editorial policy of this column to extoll the virtues of young horses who have yet to win a race. Unless they are by Pegasus out of Man o’ War’s mother (or the first born of Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra), mere maidens do not deserve such scrutiny, except on the slowest of news days.

But in this case we’ll give Footbridge and his trainer the benefit of the doubt. Any colt flying Sheikh Mohammed’s colors, as Out of Bounds did at this time last year, deserves more than a look. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the sire of Footbridge is Street Cry.