08/16/2013 3:12PM

Jay Hovdey: Stakes fillies run at Del Mar in Gaines's absence

Shigeki Kikkawa
Winding Way won the 2012 Rancho Bernardo Handicap last fall, but later tested positive for excess levels of testosterone, leading to the 30-day suspension of trainer Carla Gaines.

The crime and punishment portion of the Del Mar summer meet will be in the spotlight Sunday when two horses from the barn of suspended trainer Carla Gaines go postward in the featured stakes events of the afternoon.

Heat Trap is a lightly raced daughter of Unusual Heat who gets her first test for class in the $150,000 Solana Beach Handicap, a one-mile grass event for California-bred fillies and mares named for Del Mar’s neighboring community. With 2 wins from 3 starts, Heat Trap will be stretching beyond six furlongs for the first time while up against the 1-2 finishers in last year’s Solana Beach, Halo Dolly and Unusual Hottie. Other than that, no sweat.

[DEL MAR 2013: Complete meet coverage, schedule, race replays]

Winding Way, Heat Trap’s stablemate, is much better known, for both the right and wrong reasons. A daughter of Malibu Moon, Winding Way will defend her crown in the $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap earlier on the Sunday card against last year’s runner-up, Sugarinthemorning.

Both would appear to be in trouble with the rapid Reneesgotzip in the Rancho Bernardo field and breaking from the rail, which in her case is almost the same as a head start. Still, the memory of Winding Way’s race last summer lingers, when she hopped like a bunny rabbit out of the gate and found herself behind horses – way behind horses – for the first time in her life.

The filly responded with a cool, collected performance under Rafael Bejarano to work her way back into contention, circle the field on the turn, and wear down the Grade 1-placed Sugarinthemorning in the final yards to win by a half-length. Trevor Denman described the effort as “sensational,” and no one argued. Great things were immediately expected from Winding Way.

Unfortunately, the next time she made headlines was about a month later when a complaint filed by the California Horse Racing Board contended that tests taken after earlier Betfair Hollywood Park races on Winding Way and one other filly trained by Gaines were found to have testosterone levels in excess of the permitted amount.

After the customary round of independent tests and hearing delays so typical of the modern racetrack judicial system, Gaines received a 30-day suspension for the Class 3 violations and a fine, while the owners of the horses – Wayne Hughes and John Harris – had to forfeit the purses won. Gaines’s efforts to stay the suspension failed, and so she had to surrender the reins of her stable, effective Aug. 1.

Enter Jerry Quinn, native son of Tipperary and former steeplechase jockey who came to the United States in 1990. Quinn, whose wife Amy gave birth to their second daughter on Aug. 8 – welcome Harper Quinn! – worked for such trainers as Charlie Whittingham, Brian Mayberry, and Elliott Walden before going out on his own with a small public stable. Quinn had assisted Gaines in the past and was down to a couple of horses with no racing on the horizon, which meant he was available when her suspension went into effect. He won with 2 of his first 10 starters for the Gaines stable.

And it is still very much the Gaines stable, at least to the eye, from the prominent sign hanging from the front of the barn to the “CG” monograms on various barn trappings. Restrictions on such displays during suspensions have varied over the years, but Quinn was given no orders to remove the Gaines label. He has had more pressing concerns.

“We’ve got great help here, and Carla’s got a great team around her, so it’s been a pretty smooth transition,” Quinn said Friday morning. “As far as the fillies on Sunday are concerned, I’d love to have had a couple of months to really get inside them. But I’ve gotten to know them as much as I possibly can over the past two weeks. Here’s Winding Way now.”

Making a turn on the tow ring, the dark brown filly could only be Winding Way, with her trademark blaze dribbling down her face, as if a drunk had tried to decorate a cake during an earthquake. Winding Way had one race after her 2012 Rancho Bernardo win before going to the sidelines, then returned in June to run in two of the toughest sprint stakes of the Hollywood Park season, populated by such Grade 1 winners as Include Me Out, Teddy’s Promise, and Byrama. She was fifth both times.

“She had a very good breeze the other day,” Quinn said. “So we’ll see. There never seems to be an easy race at her level.”

As for Gaines, she took advantage of an interpretation of her suspension ruling and was seen in public areas of the racetrack in both the morning and afternoon until reaction from some fellow trainers reached a heated pitch. She was asked if she would be out to watch Winding Way and Heat Trap run on Sunday.

“I probably will not,” Gaines said by phone from her Del Mar residence. “I didn’t realize the fervor it created. I have a friend who is very ill right now, and it was his horse who was running the day I was there. I was not in the paddock as I’ve heard it said. And I am not training my horses.”

In a perfect world, free from human foibles, it would have been best had Gaines taken the first flight out to Tahiti and enjoyed her month of forced leave. No good could have ever come of her presence at the racetrack, no matter how benign her intentions.

But the fact that there is any confusion at all – regarding the physical presence of a suspended trainer at the track or the display of a suspended trainer’s name, colors and/or logo on a barn and barn equipment – speaks poorly of the racing board’s efforts to apply consistent enforcement of its own rules and rulings.

In that regard, CHRB chairman David Israel and vice chairman Chuck Winner issued a statement Friday that “a new policy be developed and adopted regarding suspensions,” and that they will “recommend that all such cases be remanded to the stewards, who will issue the actual orders of suspension and who will consistently include language denying access to all premises in the jurisdiction.”

That should fix everything. Until the next time.