05/09/2004 11:00PM

Mishandled Toccet finally gets a break


NEW YORK - Sometime during this week - perhaps on several occasions - we all are going to come to an appreciation for the fine handling of horses like Smarty Jones and Lion Heart. When we do, we should also remember that for every well-handled horse like those, there are many who are not so well handled.

This comes to mind with the news late last week that Toccet has been transferred from trainer John Scanlan to trainer Bobby Frankel by owner Daniel Borislow. Toccet had a terrific 2-year-old campaign in 2002, winning two Grade 1 races, a Grade 2, and a Grade 3, and he showed promise to be a very important horse. But last year, with Borislow calling the shots, Toccet became one of the more bizarrely managed prominent horses in recent memory, as well as one worthy of sympathy.

After Toccet won a minor stakes at Philadelphia Park in his belated 3-year-old debut, he proved with a distant fifth in the Pennsylvania Derby that he was not ready to jump back into the deep water. Nevertheless, Toccet was sent to Santa Anita for the Goodwood, in which he finished last of eight. Apparently, it was determined that the Goodwood not only was the perfect Breeders' Cup prep, but also that the Breeders' Cup was the perfect spot for Toccet to make his first start on turf. Toccet was totally mismatched in the Breeders' Cup Turf and predictably was beaten the length of the stretch.

In most cases with a horse like Toccet, that would have been the time to stop and regroup. Borislow, on the other hand, decided it was the perfect time to squeeze three more 2003 starts into his colt. After Toccet couldn't even manage to hold on at 4-5 in a small overnight stakes at Laurel, he came back to be a thoroughly whipped third in the Cigar Mile. What do you do after performances like this? Road trip! Toccet was sent back to Santa Anita for the Malibu, and poor Toccet, probably thoroughly confused and certainly jet-lagged, finished a distant 11th.

Was this the point to stop on Toccet and straighten him out? Not if you were Borislow. Toccet tried hard to overcome all the nonsense with a game second in the San Fernando in his first start this year, but that only encouraged Borislow to get Toccet's head pounded in some more. Toccet followed with an eighth in the Strub and a distant fifth in the Big Cap, which of course was a sign to try him at 1 1/2 miles on the turf in the San Luis Rey. Toccet stopped in that one to finish seventh.

A stellar California campaign completed, Toccet came back East - did he walk all the way? - and shortened up to 1 1/16 miles on turf in the Fort Marcy. He finished last of eight, beaten 17 lengths. For most people, that would have been an unmistakable signal that a long rest was due. For Borislow, it was a sign that it was time to return to the main track. Last Wednesday's Westchester Handicap was the spot, and Toccet responded with another distant last-place finish.

It was after the Westchester that Borislow decided a trainer change was in order, and he gave this stunning quote to The Blood-Horse website on the matter: "I changed trainers because I could not trust myself with making bad decisions with Toccet anymore. . . . I asked Frankel to take over his training because he is known for being his own boss, with little exception."

I guess Borislow deserves some credit for taking the blame he so richly deserves. But I wonder how this makes Scanlan feel, because as thanks for following orders, he had Toccet taken away from him. I also wonder if it isn't too late for even Frankel to straighten out Toccet.

But at least with Frankel calling the shots, Toccet has some hope. It is fair to ask if there is even any of that left for the 3-year-old filly America America, who has been campaigned by owner Cameron Express Inc. and trainer Frank Mourier as if she gets a million dollars for every start she makes.

Last year at 2, America America made 17 starts, which itself is amazing. But it becomes even more so when you consider her juvenile campaign began in three-furlong baby races at Gulfstream, then led to Ascot, Newmarket, Hamburg, Chester, Newbury, Sandown Park, Salisbury, Woodbine, Keeneland, Belmont, Delta Downs, Sam Houston, and back to Delta.

Despite being asked to sprint and route, and sprint on turf and route on turf, and travel from here to there, and way over there, and back again, America America was decent at times. She hit the board in her last five starts in Europe, placed in two stakes in Canada, and beat males in a stakes in Texas. For accomplishing the latter, America America was rewarded with being mismatched against males in three subsequent stakes. The beatings she took were so bad that she is now barely competitive even when she seemingly accidentally appears in a race that actually suits her.

I guess we shouldn't worry too much. America America had April off; no races, and no published workouts. She is still alive, credited with a workout at Keeneland on May 7. Was she just getting ready for another European campaign? No, she's entered in Friday's Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico.