12/04/2009 1:00AM

Sadler still strong with the sprinters

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Finally, on Sunday, there can be found at Hollywood Park a nice, quiet little $100,000 sprint race without a trace of Eclipse Award ramifications. It is called the Vernon O. Underwood Handicap, honoring the late Hollywood Park chairman of the board, and believe me, no one argued when its name was changed in 1990 from the bombastic National Sprint Championship. We had some laughs over that one. Good times.

Trainer John Sadler won the final running of the National Sprint Championship in 1989 with Olympic Prospect, who had a name befitting the race. Olympic Prospect was not a champion, but at least he did try to go national, winning a small stakes in Louisiana to complement his brilliant record in California.

Sadler also ran Olympic Prospect in the 1989 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Gulfstream Park, but that didn't work out. He tried to run early with Safely Kept - few could - and faded to fifth, though beaten less than four lengths. He was moved up to fourth on the disqualification of Sam Who, the same Sam Who who came right back to finish second to Olympic Prospect in the National Sprint Championship. Enough history.

For the longest time, Sadler tried to shake the rap that he was a "sprint specialist," as if something in his horsemanship precluded his runners from carrying their speed beyond three-quarters of a mile. Reality and perception finally parted ways, and today the Sadler stable is known for having contenders in virtually every division and at all rungs of the class ladder.

Still, good sprinters seem to wander Sadler's way as if lured by yesterday's news. Red Arrow won the Los Angeles Handicap for Sadler and owners Gary and Cecil Barber last summer. They came within a nose and a head of winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint with Cost of Freedom, and Sadler might have been right there in the Turf equivalent if Ack Ack Handicap winner Noble Court had bothered to break.

Noble Court comes right back for Sadler and the Joy Ride Racing partnership in the Underwood - he finished third to the retired Johnny Eves last year - but it is the barn's other entrant that provides fresh legs to the proceedings.

Machismo, a private purchase a year ago by the Barbers, was last seen disappearing into the recesses of the field at the end of the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 29. He was in the thick of it for the first half-mile, then faded to finish eighth of 12.

"He spiked a little temperature when he got there, then got over it," Sadler said. "He clearly didn't run his race, and then when he got home he got sick. Kind of a low-grade pneumonia. So we sent him off to the farm."

Sadler was not exactly taking a shot in the dark. He won the 2004 version of the Golden Shaheen with Our First Recruit. Now, though, Machismo must start over again as he tries to recapture his California form from earlier this year, when he finished second in stakes to Georgie Boy and In Summation.

"Those were a couple pretty good races on synthetic," Sadler said. "I think he's a stakes-caliber performer."

As for his rep as a sprint trainer, Sadler just laughs. He did point out that he will be running the stakes-winning mare Black Mamba, a recent $1.5 million auction purchase, during the Hong Kong festival of races, and it won't be in the Sprint.

"It's a very tough field, with horses like Spanish Moon and Youzmain in there," Sadler said, referring to the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase, on Dec. 13. "But she's a stayer, and it is at a mile and a half."

A couple of tough women

An appreciation of Diane Crump's place in racing history as a pioneer among women jockeys prompted a comment from a longtime reader. But what would he know?

Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, who's been there and done or seen everything, took exception to my description of Crump in a recent column as the first woman to ride in a "sanctioned parimutuel race in the United States." This was a clumsy way of saying that Crump was the first woman licensed by a state racing commission to ride in an official race. But there is evidence that Crump and her contemporaries were not the first, after a fashion, to break the barrier.

Van Berg, who is 73, knew two of them from his Nebraska youth, when he learned his trade from his father, Marion Van Berg. Most notably, there was Wantha Davis, born Wantha Bangs in 1918, who is given credit for winning more than a thousand races in the 1930s and 1940s while flying under the establishment radar.

Davis rode at rough-and-ready places like Tijuana, Elko, Dodge City, and just about any state fair that laid out a track and offered folks a chance to bet. She beat Hall of Famers Johnny Longden and Jack Westrope in exhibition matches. In 2004, Davis was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Wantha Davis and Lillian Jenkinson, they were tough as any other jock ever rode, and they could fight with any man," Van Berg said. "They had to be, tough, too. There wasn't any patrol film for races back then.

"Jenkinson was raised about 15 miles west of where I was," Van Berg added. "Back in them days it was no big deal for a woman to do anything a man did. They just did what they had to do."