12/22/2011 3:33PM

Santa Anita: Harrington has three classic hopefuls

Benoit & Associates
Creative Cause, with Joel Rosario up, wins the Grade 1 Norfolk.

The plan is working so far, and that’s the part that shocks and fascinates trainer Mike Harrington.

Last spring, Harrington was instructed by his principal client, Heinz Steinmann, to “find another Swiss Yodeler,” a reference to the multiple stakes winner and successful California sire that Steinmann raced and Harrington trained in the 1990’s.

To try and fulfill that goal, Harrington reached a private deal with the pinhooker Becky Thomas to purchase three unraced 2-year-olds. So far, Creative Cause has won the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita in October, and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. On Dec. 17, Empire Way rallied from well off the pace to finish fifth in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park, his third start. Another colt, French Storm, is expected to start in a maiden race at Santa Anita in early January.

None has become the next Swiss Yodeler – yet – but any of them could have outstanding campaigns in 2012. Having a starter in the Kentucky Derby is a very real thought for the dry-witted Harrington.

“It will be interesting to see if I survive,” he said.

Harrington, 70, is a fourth-generation horseman who began training on a full-time basis in 1993. Swiss Yodeler was a 2-year-old in 1996, the year he won the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and four other stakes. Swiss Yodeler did not make it to the Kentucky Derby, and never won after his 2-year-old season. He was second or third in six graded stakes from the ages of 3 to 5 before going to stud.

A former leading stallion in California, Swiss Yodeler will be 18 in 2012 and stands at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif. “He did really well with stallion awards,” Harrington said.

Steinmann’s request to duplicate that success stunned Harrington, a former veterinarian who once had a practice at the racetrack. He told Steinmann at the time that the odds were against both of them.

“He said, ‘Get me another Swiss Yodeler,’ ” Harrington said. “I told Mr. Steinmann, ‘This is impossible. I could buy horses for another 10 years and never get that lucky.’

“A lot of people pay a lot of money for pedigrees and they don’t turn out. One thing that has improved our chances is that the horses have outstanding pedigrees. You seldom get a Triple Crown horse without much pedigree.”

Creative Cause is by Giant’s Causeway out of the millionaire Dream of Summer, who won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in 2005. Empire Way is by Empire Maker out of Delta Princess, making him a full-brother to Royal Delta, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs in November. French Storm is by A.P. Indy out of Ile de France, a half-sister to the 2006 Preakness Stakes winner, Bernardini. French Storm’s debut was delayed in December by a quarter crack, Harrington said.

Creative Cause was beaten a head and a length by Hansen in the BC Juvenile. Rested for a month after that race, Creative Cause resumed training in early December. Harrington has picked the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs on Feb. 19, for the first of what is likely to be three starts in the build-up to the Kentucky Derby.

“He’s pretty much his old self,” Harrington said in mid-December. “He’s just galloping, but he’s happy.”

Creative Cause is likely to race primarily at Santa Anita in coming months, much to the benefit of Harrington as the colt.

“Shipping doesn’t bother him, but shipping bothers me,” he said. “He’s got money to get in [the Kentucky Derby], so there’s no reason to ship. If he can’t be competitive here, there is no reason to go to the Kentucky Derby.”

Empire Way could travel, if necessary. “I may have to run them together or ship one,” Harrington said. “Nothing seems to bother him. He could ship around.

Creative Cause, Harrington says, “has got a little Storm Cat in him. He’s not uncooperative, but he’s harder to deal with.”

The Kentucky Derby is not the end goal of 2012 for any of the colts. Steinmann has told Harrington that if it works to have a starter there, great, but not at the expense of the horses’ future.

“My owner has told me from day one that there is no hurry at all,” Harrington said. If Creative Cause misses the Triple Crown, he said, “There are a lot of other races. That’s the way I feel about all of them. There is so much money in other derbys when you look at the financial aspects.”

Then there is the question of improvement from 2 to 3. Creative Cause must get better to beat Hansen, BC Juvenile runner-up Union Rags, and any of the scores of 3-year-olds who will surface as Triple Crown contenders in coming months.

“There is a possibility that he might not get that much better, but I hope that’s not true,” Harrington said. “If he gets bigger and strong, he might get better. That’s what keeps you going. When I realized how good Creative Cause was it was easier to come to the barn.

“Empire Way is not as precocious. He’ll be a late 3-year-old or 4 when he reaches his peak.”

This year, Harrington’s starters have earned more than $1.2 million, the first time he has cracked the seven-figure mark since having $1.4 million in earnings in 2006. Creative Cause, Empire Way, and French Storm could lead the stable to even higher figures in 2012.

“I’m hoping that all three will be on the trail,” he said. “It’s overwhelming that one of them has turned out, let alone all three of them.”