Updated on 09/16/2011 8:03AM

A repossession and a rescue


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bet on Sunshine and Phantom on Tour are not related. But clearly, they come from the same tribe. One was a repossession and the other became a rescue, and now they are both institutions, representing the fact that sometimes the game gets it right, either sooner or later.

A recent visit to Churchill Downs discovered the two old pros alive and well and holding down opposite ends of the track.

Bet on Sunshine, his golden coat aglow from another winter spent in Ocala, dominates his side of the Paul McGee shed row with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. His body language basically says, "Here I am! Look at me!" as he hangs his handsome head over the stall webbing and bobs it up and down.

"He'll do that all morning now, slinging his head until we feed breakfast," said an admiring McGee. Bet on Sunshine agreed.

At the age of 39, McGee has been training horses for 15 years. It only seems like Bet on Sunshine has been around for all of it. His first start came in November of 1995 at Churchill Downs. His most recent, 42 races later, was a victory in November of 2001 at Churchill Downs. Bet on Sunshine is 10 this year, which is older than three of McGee's four children.

"My goal is to get him to the Phoenix Handicap again," McGee said. "That would make it six straight years."

Of course, Bet on Sunshine does more than show up and draw a paycheck. He has earned $1.4 million for owner David Holloway. The Phoenix is the premier sprint of the autumn Keeneland meet, and the old horse sports a 2-1-2 record that includes a victory last year at age 9. He's got a fan club on the Internet, along with a 4-for-4 record in sprints at Arlington Park, which has McGee dreaming of the Breeders' Cup in Chicago this fall. Bet on Sunshine was third in the '97 BC Sprint at Hollywood Park.

Not bad for a horse who had a hard time finding a home.

"He was sold at a 2-year-old in training sale, but the people who bought him didn't pay for him," McGee said.

The sales company repossessed, and Bet on Sunshine languished in his native Florida sun until age 3, when Holloway bought him off the farm for $22,000 and sent him to McGee.

"He's not really showing his age, except for getting a little long in the tooth," McGee said. "He had a little suspensory problem a few years ago. You'll see a couple of long breaks in his record. We just thought it was better to err on the side of caution."

That is exactly what Lynn Whiting thought when it came time to pull the plug on the racing career of Phantom on Tour, owned by the late Cal Partee, in early 1999. To that point, the horse had won the 1997 Rebel Stakes, finished sixth in that year's Kentucky Derby, won the 1998 New Orleans Handicap, and earned more than $700,000.

"He just had too many strikes against him," said Whiting, whose barn at Churchill Downs is adorned with a sign hailing the 1992 Derby victory of Lil E. Tee.

"He'd had multiple ankle surgeries even before he won the New Orleans Handicap," Whiting went on. "He had another surgery after that, then I had him back in training at 5 in New Orleans when he bowed [a tendon]. After that, I didn't see that he had any future as a racehorse."

Phantom on Tour was sold to Noel Hickey's Irish Acres Farm, but proved infertile as a stallion. He was gelded and commenced training as a potential show horse for another owner. Imagine Whiting's surprise, then, when he learned that Phantom on Tour had returned to racing, at the age of 7 last year, in places like Penn National and Charles Town.

"When you give a horse away or sell a horse, your hands are pretty much tied, even if you keep their papers," Whiting said. "All a person would have to do is call The Jockey Club and tell them the papers were lost. With pictures and a tattoo, you could prove it was the same horse and get a duplicate set of papers to let you race."

According to The Jockey Club, there is a way to prevent such an abuse of trust. A Thoroughbred racehorse can be re-registered as "sold without pedigree," which means that subsequent owners would never be able to race the horse at a legitimate track.

Phantom on Tour ended up being a rescue project by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. His final race was Oct. 31. Then, after a little R and R at the TRF's Lexington facility, he was given a new job. On March 19, he took up residence in the garden paddock behind Derby Cafe of the Kentucky Derby Museum. And he's a great floor show.

"The first day he was here, he turned around and splashed a mud puddle right in front of the fence," said caretaker Alison Paynter. "I guess that was his way of saying hello to his first visitors."

Two days later, Phantom on Tour was still working on his act. As group after group of local school children and tourists filed past his paddock, the flashy chestnut pranced from sunlight to shade, mugging for cameras and toying with his stablemate, a miniature horse named Winston.

Lynn Whiting is still in Hot Springs for the Oaklawn meet, but he'll be home to Churchill Downs soon. One of his first stops will be the Derby Museum and a visit with Phantom on Tour.

"They tell me he looks great," Whiting said. "I can't wait to see him."

He might have to stand in line.