12/05/2013 4:33PM

Jay Hovdey: Hollywood's trainers list second to none


In case anyone has failed to notice, there are no borders to the Thoroughbred world. Once welcomed into the culture a person tends to roam freely, sometimes aimlessly, from country to country, farm to farm, track to track, fluent in the language and customs, entirely comfortable with a lead shank or a form book, requiring only directions to the nearest racetracker’s pub.

With its place in the racing landscape now ticking down to days and hours, Hollywood Park will leave behind more than its share of a rich and colorful legacy of international relations. This is particularly true of the track’s collection of trainers who have made an impact through the decades.

As a magnet for those horsemen with lofty goals, Hollywood had few equals. Fifty years ago, the North American track that offered the most purse money on a daily basis was Hollywood Park, with its average of just under $74,000 (the good old inflation calculator translates that number to $547,565 in 2012 dollars). All you needed was a patron of reasonably good faith and the proper working papers. The stalls, if you could get them, were free.

And so they came. John Canty, Tommy Doyle, John Sullivan, and Patrick Gallagher from Ireland. John Russell, Neil Drysdale, Ian Jory, and John Gosden from England. Hector Palma, Juan Garcia, Caesar Dominguez, and Paco Gonzalez from Mexico. Barry Abrams from Belarus, Vladimir Cerin from Croatia, Tim Yakteen from Germany, Julio Canani from Peru, Paolo Lobo from Brazil, Leonard Powell from France, and lord knows how many Canadians, among them Gordon Campbell and Wally Dunn.

They’ve won all of Hollywood’s best races, and still are, leaving their exotic imprint on important events right up to the final curtain. Last weekend it was John Gosden, who made Hollywood his home for most of the 1980s, sending over Juddmonte’s Seek Again from his Newmarket yard to take the Hollywood Derby. The last time Gosden won a Hollywood Derby was 1983, when he won a division of the race with Robert Sangster’s champion filly Royal Heroine.

“It means a lot to me,” Gosden wrote via text from England the evening of Seek Again’s win. “There are too many happy memories of Hollywood Park.”

Gosden is in Hong Kong this weekend to run The Fugue in the Hong Kong Vase, as his horses continue to circle the globe. Meanwhile at Hollywood, the international torch will be taken up on Saturday in the $500,000 Starlet Stakes by England’s Simon Callaghan with Mocassin Stakes winner Bajan and Ireland’s Eoin Harty with Sharp Cat Stakes winner Arethusa.

Callaghan is a more recent arrival to California’s shores, but Harty, 51, passes for a grizzled veteran.

“My first recollection was being there for the initial Breeders’ Cup, working for John Russell basically as a hotwalker,” Harty said.

That would make it 1984, giving Harty claim to 30 of Hollywood’s 75 years, and while on his own as a trainer since 2000 Harty has taken such Hollywood Park prizes as the Shoemaker Mile, the Citation Handicap, the Hollywood Prevue, the L.A. Times Handicap, and the Real Quiet Stakes with Colonel John, subsequent winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes.

“We had a horse running on that first Breeders’ Cup undercard in a race called the Spotlight, which had an optional-claiming price of a million dollars,” Harty recalled. “Gosden won it with Zoffany.”

Named for the water nymph of Greek mythology, Arethusa is a daughter of A.P. Indy bred and owned by the Darley wing of Sheikh Mohammed, who has been Harty’s patron since he began training. Her Starlet competition will come from Pocahontas Stakes winner Untapable, the impressive maiden winner Taste Like Candy, and Rosalind, who finished a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

“You’re always gung-ho a week out,” Harty said. “Then when the overnight comes out and you look through the entries you tend to start leaking. I’m in leak mode right now.”

So much for the obligatory trainer’s disclaimer. At least Harty can derive solace from watching Arethusa train at Hollywood each day.

“She’s been a pleasant surprise from Day 1, and she has the most beautiful action at a gallop you could want,” Harty said. “But she did have some setbacks early on. We finally figured out that because she has an extremely high withers, when you put an exercise rider and saddle on her it seemed to pinch a nerve. She’d act like she was going lame. Now I use a pad I’ve been carrying around since I started training, and it protects those withers. Since then she’s never looked back.”

It was a long look back at the end of the Sharp Cat, which Arethusa won by 8 1/4 lengths. In the winner’s circle that afternoon Harty was hit by a Hollywood flashback as the trophy was being presented by official starter Gary Brinson and assistant racing secretary Dick Wheeler.

“The first winner’s circle picture I was ever in at Hollywood Park was while I was working for John Russell,” Harty said. “It was for an allowance race on a Thursday afternoon. Elizabeth Taylor presented the trophy. Elizabeth Taylor, on a Thursday afternoon! How the world has turned.”