08/01/2005 12:00AM

Red vs. blue? This party is gold

Trainer David Hofmans correctly guessed that it was worth taking a shot with the undistinguished Greg's Gold in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Sen. John McCain (R-Turf Paradise), a man on everyone's short list to run for president in 2008, told everyone back home that he was heading for San Diego last weekend to speak at the July 30 commissioning ceremonies for the USS Halsey, the newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in the American Navy.

It was a cover. McCain's real mission was a fact-finding tour of Del Mar Racetrack and a probe for support among the summer throng. Dressed in khaki slacks, a USS Halsey ball cap, and a dark-blue polo shirt with a Wile E. Coyote logo, McCain was easily the most popular politician in the house Sunday afternoon.

"I'm a big sports fan," McCain said, "and I wanted to come to Del Mar. I've been to our tracks in Arizona, but never here. Racing's a lot of fun. They look like they're doing well."

They are. Business has been good this summer, and the new turf course has held up well through the first two weeks of the meet. Until Sunday, though, trainer Dave Hofmans and jockey David Flores had been relatively quiet, other than the fact that the normally precise Flores had been docked with a three-day suspension for allowing a horse to stray.

Then came the , and the two Daves came alive in a big way, collaborating to upset Pico Central, Storm Wolf, and Battle Won with the suddenly serious Greg's Gold. Never mind the fact that Greg's Gold had already run 12 times without raising much of a fuss, and had appeared in only one minor stakes event in his lifetime. He won the historic Crosby with all the authority of a good horse, stalking the predictably fast pace and then taking full advantage of a crease on the inside to burst away by 1 1/4 lengths at the end of six furlongs in 1:08.04.

Greg's Gold is a lanky gray who flies the colors of Bill Boswell, a 74-year-old oilman from Calgary whose involvement in racing goes back more than 30 years. He bred Greg's Gold from a mating of his Vice Regent stallion Lake George and his Fit to Fight mare Lake Windermere.

"I guess you could say my fingerprints are all over Greg's Gold," Boswell said. "But you can give the credit to these two fellows right here."

Boswell was nodding toward Hofmans and his former trainer, Mike Smith, who has gone into private business but also keeps his hand in the game as Boswell's breeding and racing consultant. While Hofmans is a familiar name as the trainer of such stars as Touch Gold, Alphabet Soup, and Adoration, Smith's career was less flamboyant. Both men, however, can trace their training lineage to Farrell "Wild Horse" Jones - Smith as assistant to Farrell's son, Gary, and Hofmans as barn foreman under Farrell himself.

If nothing else, the development of Greg's Gold is an example of old-fashioned training that has allowed the horse to solve his own puzzle, a piece at a time. Going from Cal-bred conditions to open allowances to restricted stakes, Greg's Gold was far from shamed when he finished second to the younger Surf Cat last May at Hollywood Park. A breakthrough sprint score in June told Hofmans the time was ripe to reach for the stars in the Crosby, and he was right.

"It's my biggest win, that's for sure," Bill Boswell said as he left the Del Mar winner's circle. "And it was a treat to meet Senator McCain. Since I'm Canadian, he didn't have to worry about getting my vote. But for some reason he kept wanting to get in pictures with me."

Hello and goodbye

The circle of life took a significant turn through the California racing circuit last week with the birth of Sam Yakteen on July 27, and the death of R.H. "Chick" McClellan two days later.

Named for his late grandfather, Hussam Yakteen, Sam weighed in at seven pounds on the dot and measured 21 inches, top to toes. His father is trainer Tim Yakteen, making his own name after stints with Charlie Whittingham and Bob Baffert, and his mother is Millie Ball, an all-around horsewoman currently working as analyst for the HRTV racing network.

McClellan, 86, hailed from that core of Depression-era horsemen who had to do everything around a racetrack just to make a living. McClellan was a rider, trainer, mutuel clerk, and jock's agent for Fernando Toro, Sandy Hawley, and Alvaro Pineda, but most of all he was a class act and all-star family man who loved to share the lore of the game.

"He remembered everything," said his son, Scotty McClellan, agent for Alex Solis and David Flores. "At one Thanksgiving something about Arlington Park came up, and out of the clear blue he said, 'Oh yeah, I beat Eddie Arcaro one time by a nose there. I had just come into town on the third day. I think I started riding on the fourth or fifth day, then on the sixth or seventh day I rode this horse in the fourth race for so-and-so. It was by so-and-so out of so-and-so, and I beat Arcaro a nose coming out of the five hole.'

"My brother Ronnie looked it up," Scotty said, "and there it was, seventh day of the meet, McClellan, on No. 5, beats Arcaro by a nose. He got the horse, the trainer, the owner, and the breeding exactly right. And that was 60 years ago."