01/07/2009 12:00AM

Scharbauer gives it another go

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Clarence Scharbauer, who owned Alysheba, decided to take aim at the Derby again. The promising Indygo Mountain could take him there.

NEW ORLEANS - It probably was a horse named Gold Coyote that brought Clarence Scharbauer Jr. back into the big game. A Texas homebred, Gold Coyote won two Texas stakes, but met his Waterloo trying to stretch out to one mile in the 2005 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park.

"I think that horse got Clarence's blood pumping again," said Ken Carson, Scharbauer's longtime right-hand horse man. "Clarence said, 'If we're going to take dead aim on the big races, I guess we got to go back to Kentucky, don't we?' "

Back to Kentucky meant back to the Keeneland sales. Carson had been there with Scharbauer in 1985, when Scharbauer's wife, Dorothy, paid $500,000 for an Alydar colt who would be named Alysheba - winner of the Kentucky Derby two years later, and the Breeders' Cup Classic the season after.

The year Alysheba won the Derby was the year trainer Bret Calhoun graduated from Texas Tech and took a job in advertising. But it was Calhoun who joined Scharbauer and Carson at the 2007 Keeneland September sale, and it is in Calhoun's barn at Fair Grounds that the three horses bought there for a total of $2.7 million reside.

The $1.4 million filly Awesome Fleet is not off to a promising start, but the two colts, $700,000 Silver City and $600,000 Indygo Mountain, are. Both scored sharp wins at Churchill Downs, and while Silver City is headed to Oaklawn for his first start of 2009, Indygo Mountain races here Saturday in the Lecomte Stakes, the first step in what his connections hope will mark Scharbauer's return to the Triple Crown.

"He's got the pedigree behind him, the size, and the mind," Calhoun said of Indygo Mountain, an A.P. Indy colt. "He seems to have all the ingredients to make that kind of horse."

He also had a rough spell recently in New Orleans. Second in his career debut going seven furlongs at Keeneland, Indygo Mountain won by six lengths in a fast one-turn mile on Nov. 19 at Churchill. He was supposed to start in a two-turn Fair Grounds allowance race that was snowed out Dec. 11. When the race was brought back a week later, Indygo Mountain made it onto the track, but came up lame in his left hind leg, and was scratched just prior to post time.

"We went into that race with a lot of confidence that was quickly deflated," Calhoun said.

Calhoun thought Indygo Mountain was harboring an abscess in his foot, but nothing ever showed in the left hind, and Indygo Mountain soon seemed fine. But a couple of days after Indygo Mountain started training again, an abscess popped out of his right hind foot. This all happened before Christmas, however, and Indygo Mountain has since worked one mile on Dec. 31, and five furlongs last Monday.

If the roller-coaster ride has put pressure on Calhoun, he's not showing it, which is probably one reason Carson and Scharbauer first gave him horses about seven years ago. Like Scharbauer, Calhoun is a Texan, but from there, their paths diverge. Scharbauer, 84, has become reclusive, while earning praise as a serious philanthropist. His family had major Texas ranch holdings dating to the late 19th century, and Scharbauer owns some 300,000 acres around Midland - oil country. Several times he has made the Forbes list of richest Americans.

Calhoun grew up in Grand Prairie long before Lone Star Park came around. His father was a schoolteacher for 27 years, but his parents got into real estate, and did well enough to start buying horses. They had five stabled at Louisiana Downs in what was supposed to be a retirement hobby when Calhoun found himself between advertising jobs in Dallas. The horse bug had bitten Calhoun as a kid, when his dad first had gotten involved, and with nothing to do for three weeks, Calhoun went to Louisiana Downs to help out.

"I never came back," said Calhoun, fairy-tale style.

Out on his own in 1994, Calhoun didn't win his 20th race until 1997, but he has basically gone nowhere but forward since. Last year was Calhoun's best, with 228 victories and stable earnings of $5.2 million. As of this week, he has about 100 horses in training.

"I had watched Bret, and I was particularly impressed that he was doing well with horses that were really moderately bred," said Carson. "You could tell early on he was a real overachiever. He evaluates horses really well, and he places them really well. He's done us a great job."

With Scharbauer back at the Keeneland sale in 2007 for the first time in 11 years, Carson made a list of candidates for purchase, and Calhoun evaluated the horses in the flesh. The process was not new to Calhoun, just the amount of money being invested.

"I bought one yearling a few years ago for $100,000 or something, but I've never had horses like this before," Calhoun said.

And who knows - there might not be others like them again. Scharbauer didn't go back to the Keeneland sale after 2007, and Silver City appears to his connections a more precocious and brilliant type of horse, perhaps not Triple Crown material. But just having a chance of getting back to the Triple Crown is what drew Scharbauer back in. Now, it's up to Calhoun and Indygo Mountain to take him there.