04/27/2010 11:00PM

No comparing certain Saturdays


Out here on the Left Coast, a long way from the excitement of Kentucky Derby week, a Thoroughbred owner must occupy himself with lesser diversions. That is why you will find David Lanzman at Hollywood Park on Saturday, Derby Day, hoping for the best from his little mare Sweeter Still in the $100,000 Wilshire Handicap, going a mile on the grass.

No question that Sweeter Still, a graded stakes winner, is tons better than an empty stall. Lanzman owns her in partnership with Jason Wood, better known as one of Lava Man's men, and she could be a factor in top middle-distance turf races for the division as the year unwinds, at least as long as Tuscan Evening doesn't show up.

Still, the Wilshire is a long drop from a year ago, when Lanzman woke up in Louisville on Derby morning half owner of the race favorite, I Want Revenge, and was already starting to smell the roses.

All week long, Lanzman and his wife, Desirae, had enjoyed the parade of Derby excess, along with the deference due the connections of the top contender. Then came Saturday morning, and the call from trainer Jeff Mullins, when Lanzman got the real bad news: I Want Revenge was going to be scratch because of a suspicious ankle. The caffeine hadn't even kicked in yet.

Lanzman's partners, the New York-based IEAH syndicate of owners, had just come off a Derby win the year before with Big Brown. Lanzman himself had been to the top of the game with 2001 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse champ Squirtle Squirt. But having the Derby favorite was a grand new experience gone wrong for both Lanzman and his jockey, the 19-year-old Joe Talamo. The letdown was dizzying.

"Jason told me that after Lava Man retired, he'd go watch a horse of his run for $16,000 or $25,000 and kind of wouldn't care," Lanzman said this week from the Pasadena offices of his company, Nationwide Mortgage Consultants. "I remember going through the same letdown with Squirtle Squirt, too, after he was through. My family came to town for Christmas and we went out to watch a horse of mine run for maiden Cal-bred 40. He won, but I just stood there."

In the wake of the I Want Revenge scratch, instead of an emotional vacuum there ensued a tumultuous year during which Lanzman and IEAH exchanged lawsuits and dark thoughts over the condition of the horse and contract provisions. The roller coaster came to a halt, at least in terms of any lingering business or litigation, earlier in April when Lanzman settled for $550,000 from IEAH to buy him out. I Want Revenge has yet to return to the races, and he is currently training in New York with Rick Dutrow.

"I have a horse with Rick right now," Lanzman said. "It's a 3-year-old filly named Atlantic Beauty who's never run. When she came in, Rick put her in the stall right next to I Want Revenge."

Whether or not this is a joke anyone needs to get is up for grabs. The larger picture of the I Want Revenge story always will be how close he came to grabbing the game's ultimate prize.

"After the disaster of the scratch, it would have been really easy to go into a shell and be depressed as hell," Lanzman said. "But what happened afterwards was actually therapeutic. It kept me focused, and gave me something to do."

It's not that Lanzman dwells on the place I Want Revenge occupied in his life. Okay, maybe a little.

There's the hallway in his Beverly Hills home decorated with photos from the colt's victories in the 2009 Gotham and the Wood Memorial, along with the large name card that would have marked his saddling stall in the Churchill Downs paddock, not to mention his framed Kentucky Derby saddlecloth, like new and spotless.

There's the half-sister, A Story of Revenge, whose sire is Tale of the Cat. Like her brother, the filly was bred by Lanzman. She was consigned to the Barretts 2-year-old sale last March in California, but she ended up bought back for her $975,000 reserve.

"We'd sold their dam, Meguial, so at least I'll have I Want Revenge's family with me for as long as she's around," Lanzman said.

Every once in awhile, Lanzman likes to Google "I Want Revenge," in his words, "just to see if anybody's writing anything about him." When Talamo emerged with a second shot at the Kentucky Derby aboard Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy, only a year after the disappointment of I Want Revenge, the "I Want Revenge" hits suddenly were all about the jockey. More recently, Lanzman's searches have led to Eskendereya, the prerace Derby favorite who pulled an I Want Revenge when he was scratched with leg trouble last Sunday. At least Eskendereya did not put his people through the torture of being entered and then hailed on all the covers of Saturday's papers.

In addition to action with Sweeter Still at Hollywood, Lanzman noted that A Story of Revenge will go into light training this weekend before heading to the track.

"After Barretts she went back to the farm to chill out," Lanzman said. "I always like to give them a couple months after a sale. She's a beauty, and worth all the time she needs. Come the first of June I'll decide where I'm going to send her."

And then the dreams begin all over again.