12/15/2010 4:05PM

Stute savors 2,000th win, plans dispersal of horses

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Benoit & Associates
Trainer Mel Stute, with his wife Annabelle, is honored after scoring his 2,000th victory as a trainer on Saturday at Hollywood Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Trainer Mel Stute won the 2,000th race of his career at Hollywood Park last Saturday, a win that caught him by surprise since he was unaware of the looming milestone.

The 83-year-old trainer was still glowing from the achievement Wednesday, largely because he is not sure when his next winner will arrive.

Stute has just five horses in his Santa Anita barn and plans to sell the horses owned by his wife, Annabelle, at Barretts in Pomona, Calif., in January. He will be left with just a few horses owned in partnership.

Stute won the first race last Saturday with Score for Fun, but it was late in the afternoon before he was honored in the Hollywood Park winner’s circle. A few track’s employees found Stute in a horsemen’s lounge and urged him to come to the winner’s circle with Annabelle.

“I was betting on some race and they said, ‘We want you in the winner’s circle,’ ” Stute said. “I didn’t know what they wanted. I didn’t have the slightest idea.”

Stute spent Wednesday morning at his favorite haunt, Clocker’s Corner at Santa Anita, the breakfast patio that overlooks the racetrack.

“I think I’m the oldest trainer around here,” he said.

Even though Santa Anita recently installed a dirt track for its upcoming winter-spring meeting that begins Dec. 26, Stute said he has no plans to expand his stable. The track’s three-year experiment with synthetic surfaces that ended this year did not work to his advantage.

“These new tracks buried me,” he said.

Stute is best known for his success with Snow Chief, the champion 3-year-old male of 1986. That year, Snow Chief won the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, and Preakness Stakes.

The same season, Stute trained Brave Raj, the champion 2-year-old filly. In 1987, Stute won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with the female Very Subtle. But in recent years, his stable size has dwindled. His last stakes win came with Hurry Up Austin in the Kangaroo Court Stakes at Santa Anita in October 2008.

He said he will not walk away from the game.

“This is my love,” he said. “Some people want to own a house on the beach. I enjoy this.”

Baffert to miss CashCall Futurity

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will not have a starter in Saturday’s $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park, a race he has won the last two years and four times in history.

Baffert had candidates in Awesome Patriot and Prayer for Relief. Awesome Patriot, who finished third in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 20, will pass the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity for an undisclosed race. Prayer for Relief, second in the Real Quiet Stakes on Nov. 6, suffered “a little setback” in recent training, Baffert said. He did not say how long Prayer for Relief will be sidelined.

The CashCall Futurity is run over 1 1/16 miles and is expected to have a field of 10 – Clubhouse Ride, Comma to the Top, Gourmet Dinner, High Level Jeff, Industry Leader, J P’s Gusto, Riveting Reason, Ronin Dax, Rustler Hustler, and Slammer Time.

Trainer Doug O’Neill will start High Level Jeff, an outsider who was fifth in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 27. His stable will not run Boxeur des Rues, who was fifth behind Comma to the Top in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes on Nov. 27.

“He came out of a workout with a little heat in the foot, and we’ll wait on him,” O’Neill said. “He needs a little time.”

Setsuko pointing to Malibu Stakes

Setsuko, runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby in April, has joined the list of expected starters for the $250,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

“I’m leaning toward running him,” trainer Richard Mandella said Wednesday. “I really like the way he has been working.”

Setsuko joins a field expected to include Alcindor, Caracortado, Don Tito, Indian Firewater, Noble’s Promise, Smiling Tiger, Thiskysnolimit Thomas Baines, and Twirling Candy.

Smiling Tiger was third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, in his most recent start. He has won two Grade 1 sprints over six furlongs this year – the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar and the Ancient Title Stakes at Hollywood Park.

The Malibu is one of two Grade 1 stakes on Dec. 26, joined by the $250,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs. The probable starters for the La Brea are Always a Princcess, Arte Viva, Bonnie Blue Flag, Champagne d’Oro, Switch, and possibly Tanda.

Tanda, winner of two Grade 3 stakes in the spring, has not started since finishing third in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in June. Trainer Dan Hendricks said Wednesday that a bruised foot could prevent Tanda from starting in the La Brea.

“I’ve got a little bit of a foot issue and we’ll see,” he said. “If we don’t make it, we’ll wait for another spot.”