07/24/2008 11:00PM

In lieu of gold, try 'Silver'

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DEL MAR, Calif. - There is very little doubt that the Bing Crosby Handicap, to be run again on Sunday at Del Mar, has become the gold standard among the West's best sprints. The pun is intended, and deeply regretted.

Reb's Golden Ale, a speed demon who ran like a fugitive from Los Alamitos, began the trend in 1980 for the team of Sandy Hawley and trainer Jerry Fanning. Among the horses they beat that day was defending champ Bad n' Big.

Gold Land bagged the Crosby for Neil Drysdale and Eddie Delahoussaye in 1995, upstaging G Malleah, who had set the world record for the Crosby's six-furlong distance earlier that year. Gold Land also finished third in the 1996 Crosby and second in 1998.

The reign of Eclipse Award winner Kona Gold began with the running of the 2000 Crosby and continued the following summer, when he won his second straight by defeating Caller One, two-time winner of Dubai's Golden Shaheen. If there has been a more exciting six furlongs in California over the past quarter century . . . go ahead, name it. Met Mile winner Swept Overboard was third.

Greg's Gold, named for a Special Olympian, won the Crosby in 2005, then passed the baton to Pure as Gold, a game former claimer who gave trainer Jack Carava his first Grade 1 score in the Crosby of 2006. A tendon injury prevented Greg's Gold from defending his '05 title. But after stem cell treatments and solicitous handling by Dave Hofmans, he was back in 2007 to just miss winning a second Crosby at the age of 6.

Greg's Gold is retired now, living the life of Riley at Harris Ranch in central California, where he was foaled and raised. Kona Gold hung up his spurs a few years back, then did a tour of duty as Bruce Headley's stable pony before being invited to join the cast at the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington, Ky. Kona Gold now wakes up each morning staring at Cigar in the stall across the aisle, then spends the day sharing a grassy paddock with his pal, Da Hoss.

Pure as Gold didn't make the field for this year's Crosby, but there is always next year. Carava said this week that the 6-year-old gelding, owned by Ron Valenta's La Canada Stable, will be back at the track soon following treatment and extensive therapy for a tendon injury.

"He had chips taken out of a knee a while back," Carava said. "But he came back good, and he was ready to run. Then he ended up getting the tendon. When they have one injury, chances are they can come back. With two different problems, though, we'll just have to wait and see."

The field for Sunday's $300,000 Crosby offers no golden angle, but quality abounds. In Summation is back to defend his hard-earned title from last summer. Street Boss is gunning for his fifth straight, and the Johnny Eves people hope their Malibu Stakes winner can recapture the glory.

As far as precious metals go, longshot players might end up giving Silver Stetson Man a look. Bob Baffert has been bringing Silver Stetson Man, a 4-year-old son of Silver Charm, along like he could be a good horse, although the bar for sprinters in that barn is set pretty high, what with 2007 champion Midnight Lute in the herd. Mike Pegram owns both Midnight Lute and Silver Stetson Man, a winner of 4 out of 7.

"He's a beautiful animal, but this is the acid test," Pegram said. "The good ones all gotta have that breakout race, and maybe this will be the one. I just hope he's got the same heart his daddy had."

If nothing else, Silver Stetson Man is tagged with what sounds like one of those classic, inside-joke Pegram names.

"I'd like to take credit, but I can't," Pegram said. "He was named when I got him. I do rename horses I buy, from time to time, but not very often. In fact, we came real close to changing Real Quiet's name. The reason I didn't was because I was just superstitious."

Asked what his Kentucky Derby winner's name might have been, Pegram replied, "He was gonna be The Fish." If nothing else, the idea lingered. Around the Baffert barn, the colt who came within a nose of winning the 1998 Triple Crown was always referred to by his aquatic nickname.

Pegram hasn't been involved in a Bing Crosby score since he had a piece of 1992 winner Thirty Slews. If that bothers him, he hides it well. As far as Pegram is concerned, there is no such thing as a bad Del Mar meet anyway. It takes more than losing a horse race to spoil the fun.

This summer, though, Pegram is letting his heart go heavy from time to time over the loss of his close friend Luke Kruytbosch, the Churchill Downs and Turf Paradise announcer who died of an apparent heart attack on July 14 at the age of 47. Pegram is 56.

"We do have Racecaller Luke," Pegram said. "He's a 2-year-old, a Point Given, and I named him just last week. You know we must think he can run some if I put that on him. Look for him late in the year, and let's just hope we didn't waste a good name."