08/24/2011 4:00PM

Proctor has horse for those who appreciate irony


In sifting through the field for the California Thoroughbred Trainers and Thoroughbred Owners of California Handicap on Friday at Del Mar – gratefully run at 1 3/8 miles on the grass because that’s how long it takes to recite the formal name of the race – the eye settles upon one entrant that should take a lot of money from the players who use irony as a handicapping tool.

Mutually Benefit is a 4-year-old daughter of Dynaformer owned by the Glen Hill Farm of Leonard Lavin and trained by Tom Proctor. She took her time winning her maiden but now has won two out of her last three, the last one at 1 1/4 miles over the Hollywood grass in June.

She’s worth a look, if only because Proctor is having a career year knocking off stakes races of various shapes and sizes on the grass. The count finds him with seven different horses, including the sterling mare Keertana, winning 10 different grass stakes at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, and Woodbine.

“I’d have to think that’s pretty darned lucky by any measure,” Proctor said, deploying his best self-deprecating Texas twang.

At the same time, the term “mutual benefit” hardly pertains to the recent relationship between the CTT and TOC. California owners and trainers have been wrestling for control of their corner of the business ever since the early 1990s, when the HBPA was decertified as the official horsemen’s representative and replaced by the TOC. Now, as these things go, a spin-off faction of the CTT is attempting to decertify the TOC – or, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

At some point someone will crack a history book and discover that owners of Thoroughbreds and their trainers have interests that match more often than not, and that strife between them serves only to delight their true common opponent, which is the ownerships of the various racing associations. More than half a century ago, a fledgling horsemen’s group in California went to war with management over purses when available money was split 90-10 in favor of the tracks. The numbers may have changed, but hardly the dynamic.

Proctor, 55, has been primarily a Midwestern stalwart while campaigning seasonally in California. This year he has established a permanent California beachhead while maintaining a string at Arlington Park as well. He gives credit for the move to Lavin and his grandson, Craig Bernick, who is president and COO of Glen Hill Farm.

“So far it’s working out okay,” Proctor said. “Del Mar’s a real hardship, of course. But somebody’s got to do it.”

Entering the week’s racing, Proctor and Glen Hill have won with four of their 11 runners, and the big horse has yet to strut his stuff. That would be Banned, winner this year of the American Turf Stakes and Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, second in the Virginia Derby, and third most recently in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. Banned is a possibility for the $250,000 Del Mar Derby on the final Sunday of the meet, Sept. 4.

“Everybody talks about the derby being so close to the Secretariat, but maybe I want to run him when he’s not so fresh,” Proctor noted. “He was fresh in his first start this year, then came right back and he ran a monster race, waited five weeks, he was fresh again, then coming back in three weeks and he ran another monster race.”

Banned was the best of the American colts in the Secretariat, beaten only by the Irish Derby winner Treasure Beach and the French horse Ziyarid after getting banged around early.

“So we’ll see,” Proctor added. “If he’s doing good I plan on running him. I was told not to run him if he can get beat, but you’re not going to be running many horses with that philosophy.”

Proctor’s gentle nudge in the direction of owner feedback was more a tribute to his relationship with Lavin, and now Bernick, than anything else.

“The only reason I’m doing better today than some of the other trainers I come up with is because Mr. Lavin is still alive and well, and loves the game enough to bring his grandson into the operation with the same attitude,” Proctor said.

As far as letting the ego run rampant, Proctor had the “me, myself, and I” drummed out of him long ago by his father, the legendary Willard L. Proctor, when Tom worked for him in California as a teenager. The Proctor horses continue to occupy the barn where his late father ruled for so many years with such Del Mar stakes winners as Right Honorable, Uniformity, The Carpenter, Table Hands, Swear, and Summer Time Guy.

“It didn’t used to be Barn ‘P’ but they changed it when I first came here 10 years ago so I could remember where it was,” Proctor said with a laugh. He pointed through the shed row breezeway to the barn next door, once ground zero for the horses of Charlie Whittingham.

“Back then Charlie and Dad would have a few drinks together,” Proctor said. “Charlie would come over the next morning and say to me, ‘I’m a little worried about your Dad. He doesn’t look so good.’ Then later that morning Dad would say to me, ‘You know, I’m a little worried about Charlie. He’s not looking so good.”

W.L. Proctor died in 1998, at the age of 82. Whittingham was 86 when he died the following year.

As for the CTT and TOC Handicap, Proctor knows he is in tough, but he would love to bag the Friday feature with Mutually Benefit if only for the symbolic hoot.

“I’ll tell you what,” Proctor said, “if our filly should up and win it, and those two groups are there in the winner’s circle, I’m gonna reach out and grab both sides. And we’re gonna have us a big ol’ hug.”