Updated on 09/16/2011 6:37AM

Now he plays patience game


ARCADIA, Calif. - Things you never thought you would hear:

"I think 'Pearl Harbor' is a lock for best picture of 2001." - Steven Spielberg.

"You're right. The other guy won. He can have the job." George W. Bush.

"I'm hoping for the best, but I can't afford to buy the best." Nelson Bunker Hunt.

Okay, so I made up the first two. But honest, that was the Nelson Bunker Hunt who said what he said just the other day from Dallas while talking about his renewed interest in Thoroughbred racing.

Hunt owned a huge chunk of the game back in the 1970's and 1980's when his colors were carried far and wide by such runners as Dahlia, Exceller, Youth, Empery, Fact Finder, Rivlia, Reloy, Mississippian, Palace Music, and Rosedale. He bred horses by the hundreds, bought and sold at the highest levels, and there was never, ever anything he couldn't afford, whether he wanted to buy it or not.

Then came his woes with silver and oil, and his financial world turned upside down. Racehorses became a luxury he could no longer justify, but his love of the sport never flagged. After a dozen years of exile, and a comeback by his Hunt Explorations, the man known as Bunker waded back into the business in 1999 with a few modest Texas purchases. Then, during 2000, he broke cover at the Kentucky yearling sales, although he avoided any bidding wars with the Coolmore crew or the Dubai sheikhs.

"I didn't buy any expensive horses, but guess I did the next worst thing," Hunt said with a chuckle. "I bought a lot of 'em. Any time you buy a big bunch of yearlings, it takes a whole lot of patience. What I need is a few that can win the big races."

The best of them has turned out to be the stakes-winning filly Hattiesburg, and on Friday in New Orleans, Hunt's 3-year-old colt Castner was set to run in the Black Gold Handicap for Steve Asmussen. Hunt liked the thought of that name on a trophy - Black Gold - since his father, H.L. Hunt, became the world's richest man a half-century ago on the power of Texas oil.

"And I'm always trying to find some," Hunt said.

While Hunt is waiting for his new stable of young horses to pan out, there are a few readymade runners also in the mix. One of them, the Chilean horse Seinne, is running at Santa Anita on Saturday in the $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

"He's only run three times in this country," Hunt noted, "so it's hard to evaluate just how he stacks up. He ran with Lido Palace and Penamacor in Chile, and very creditably, maybe a length or so off them."

Hunt also bought Penamacor, who managed to win one minor U.S. race before he broke down in the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park last month. His injuries were so severe that he had to be euthanized.

"I try to be philosophical about those things," Hunt said. "You hate to lose any horse, especially a good one. They couldn't find anything wrong with him before he broke the leg, and Ron is very patient."

Ron McAnally was Hunt's choice to train his Chileans based on the trainer's success with such South Americans as Bayakoa, Paseana, and Ibero. As it turned out, Seinne has had all the luck. He won a mile race on the dirt at Del Mar, finished third in the Russell Handicap during Oak Tree, and then won a mile race on the Hollywood Park grass, both on the track and in the stewards stand after a lengthy inquiry.

"He's a nice little horse," McAnally said of Seinne. "I don't know if he can beat those on Saturday, but he tries."

The San Pasqual is the first serious step on the road to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, set for Saturday, March 2. With Tiznow, Captain Steve, and Point Given all retired, the field is wide open for a brave horse to fill the void. Seinne will face a field that includes Wooden Phone, who beat Tiznow in the 2001 Strub Stakes, and Milwaukee Brew, Bobby Frankel's new shooter for Frank Stronach.

Hunt has never won the Santa Anita Handicap, nor the San Pasqual, for that matter. And if such races turn out to be over Seinne's head, Hunt sounds like a man who plans to keep trying. When you have lost and made fortunes, and you have seen your horses win races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Washington D.C. International, and the Irish Oaks, not to mention the French and English Derbies in the same week, hope tends to spring eternal.

"I'll be 76 next month, and I feel pretty good," Hunt added. "I'm just a youngster."