04/15/2011 2:58PM

Quindici Man stays home for San Juan Capistrano instead of road trip to West Virginia


Craig Lewis had his passport in order, all the recommended shots, a Frommer’s Guide and one of those instant language tapes from Rosetta Stone to play while he took the flight. Then he got the news that his horse didn’t make the cut, so instead of running Quindici Man on Saturday night at Charles Town in West Virginia the trainer will stay home in California for the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap on Sunday afternoon.

What price tradition? In this case 850K, or the difference between the $1 million purse for the Charles Town Classic and the $150,000 on the table for the San Juan. The San Juan Capistrano has been run since 1935 and has been won by Seabiscuit, Olden Times, Cougar II, Exceller, John Henry, Great Communicator, and Kotashaan. The Charles Town Classic has been run since 2009 and won by local hero Researcher…and then by Researcher again.

History, of course, does not pertain. Such is the nature of a muscle-bound event subsidized by slot money – in this case the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races – as opposed to an old-timey turf race issued the bare minimum purse level to maintain its Grade 2 ranking by a track whose ownership just emerged from bankruptcy.

As recently as 2003 the San Juan was a $400,000 event, a level first attained in 1986. The 2010 slash to $150,000 effectively took the purse back to the 1977 mark, but in terms of inflation, compared with the 72 previous runnings, the San Juan Capistrano has never been so cheap. The $9,100 Head Play banked for beating Top Row and Ladysman in 1935 would be worth $148,434 today.

Little wonder then, that Lewis was hankering for a trip to the heart of Appalachia. West Virginia dollars spend just fine in California. The Charles Town Classic was so popular, though, that 14 entered and only 10 can run, which left not only Quindici Man out in the cold according to the terms of selection, but also the two-time defending champ Researcher.

“I would have loved to have been in West Virginia,” Lewis said Friday morning. “My horse is a bull-ring freak. He loves the mud and it’s supposed to rain. On top of that I was getting a nine-pound shift from Game on Dude. But then, they wrote their own horse out of the race.”

Quindici Man has won only one race in the last two seasons, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. There are no fewer than seven stakes placings in his last dozen starts to go along with his win in the 2010 Bull Dog Stakes at the Big Fresno Fair. That’s right, the Big Fresno Fair. Live with it.

Quindici Man is a son of Came Home, the Gone West stallion who was talented enough to win the Hopeful Stakes at 2 and the Pacific Classic at 3. He is owned by the Seidner family – brothers Todd, Steve, and Rick own the California chain of auto collision centers – and has been in the care of Lewis for 30 of his 32 lifetime starts.

Besides Fresno, Lewis has not been shy about taking his gray horse far and wide – San Francisco, Louisiana, New Mexico, Pomona – but he nearly grabbed the brass ring in his own backyard last time out when Quindici Man, with Martin Pedroza aboard, was an onrushing third, beaten just half a length by Game on Dude in a rowdy running of the Santa Anita Handicap.

“I really wasn’t paying much attention to all that,” Lewis said, referring to the squeezing and bumping among Game on Dude, Twirling Candy, and Setsuko that day. “Guys have told me my horse had to hesitate just a little behind those horses when they starting banging around. What I think happened is that he just caught them in a hurry and was really rolling. Rather than taking a chance going inside Martin went around. He ended up losing more ground than the Indians did in Manhattan.”

The 10 assembling for the San Juan do not include the leaders of the West Coast turf division, Bourbon Bay and Champ Pegasus, both of whom were spent running up the track for $5 million in Dubai last month. Topping the opposition to Quindici Man will be Hollywood Derby winner Haimish Hy, who was third to Bourbon Bay and Champ Pegasus last time out, and the 1-2-3 finishers from the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Stakes, which was taken off the grass.

Quindici Man has enough experience on the grass over a distance of ground to eliminate those variables for the San Juan’s 14 furlongs. Lewis has concerns that the course may be a little too firm for his horse’s taste. But beyond that, the gray horse is ready to give it his best shot.

“He might not be that good of a horse, but he thinks he is, just like his trainer,“ Lewis said. “A lot of times that can make a difference.”

Take a stroll on Santa Anita’s stretch

The San Juan Capistrano has been moved to the final race on the program, which is fitting, since Sunday is Santa Anita’s closing day. Fans already had an incentive to stick around for a special celebration, called “On Track to Cure Cancer,” in which anyone can participate with a token donation toward research through the City of Hope hospital network.

Once the San Juan is in the books, fans will be ushered onto the Santa Anita main track for a walk down the historic quarter-mile stretch. It takes a fast Thoroughbred around 24 seconds to cover that kind of ground (22 if you’re Zenyatta), but Sunday’s crowd can take their time, bring cameras and kids, and enjoy the view for a very good cause.