10/19/2006 11:00PM

Stute's latest bargain buy


By now it must be concluded, without fear of contradiction, that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile has very little to do with any semblance of success in Triple Crown events the following year.

Of the 66 young horses who have finished first, second, or third in the 22 BC Juveniles run since 1984, only eight of them went on to win a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness, or a Belmont Stakes. They were Spend a Buck, Alysheba, Easy Goer, Tabasco Cat, Timber Country, Editor's Note, Point Given, and Afleet Alex.

Don't look for much help from the also-rans, either. Of the 198 who did not hit the board in the Juvenile, exactly four evolved sufficiently as racehorses to win a classic the subsequent spring. Bet Twice, Go and Go, Pine Bluff, and Lemon Drop Kid were their names.

This means the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is pretty much an end in itself, which is okay, as long as the participants don't start confusing the results as an indication of greater things to come. All major late-summer and early-autumn races these days funnel directly into the BC Juvenile, and they need to be pretty much wrapped up by the second weekend of October.

As a result, there has been roadkill among traditional stakes, including the seven-furlong Sunny Slope Stakes during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita. The Sunny Slope will be run for the 32nd time on Sunday, but it has been a rocky 32 years.

Once a proud stepping-stone to the Norfolk Stakes, the Sunny Slope became an orphan in the Breeders' Cup era when the Norfolk was moved up in the meet to maintain its role as a Breeders' Cup prep. As a result, the Sunny Slope winners have been mostly anonymous. Sometimes the race was carded as an afterthought overnight, and some years it was cancelled, and in 1995 it was shortened to six furlongs, as if the breed needs another six-furlong event.

At seven furlongs in the 1970's and early 1980's, major stakes-winning colts such as Desert Wine, Ancient Title, Flying Paster, MacArthur Park, George Navonod, Solar Salute, Replant, Diabolo, Money Lender, and Habitony ran well in the Sunny Slope. Even after the Breeders' Cup came along in 1984, the race still previewed such talents as Grand Canyon, Snow Chief, and Pleasant Tap.

Mel Stute won the Sunny Slope in 1993 with Subtle Trouble, and he will try to win it again Sunday with Hurry Up Austin, a Florida-bred son of Lake Austin (a son of Storm Cat out of Lakeway) whom he owns with longtime client Ray Glaze. Hurry Up Austin has run three times, winning once and finishing third and fourth to Spark of Dubai in a pair of stakes at the L.A. County Fair, which doesn't exactly make him one of Sunday's top picks. Even so, Stute insists Hurry Up Austin is not a throw-out.

"I really believe he's going to run good," said Stute. "He ran okay at Fairplex. In the Gateway to Glory, that horse was just too much for him. In the other race, he got off real bad and came running."

At $10,000, bought out of last May's sale at Barretts, Hurry Up Austin hardly broke the Bank of Stute.

"I wasn't supposed to buy him," Stute said. "I'd just got outbid on one, and I was turning to walk away when he came walking into the ring. God, he was good looking. So like always I got to bidding, and before I knew it I owned him."

To see Stute on the prowl at the lower reaches of the sales world is to watch a master at work. He has been working wonders with bargains for years.

"I don't look at the book. I look at the horse," Stute said. "I figure a 3-year-old kid can read the black type in a book - you don't have to be any kind of horseman.

"A lot of trainers nowadays don't buy their horses," he said. "All the horses I train, I buy. That way it's my fault if they're no good. But I've been unconsciously lucky the last few years buying horses like Buffythecenterfold, Perfect Moon, and Smokin' Mel. I don't pay much for them."

Which means there are profits to be made if they pan out. Hurry Up Austin never had pretensions of trying the Breeders' Cup, which means there are a lot of other ways he can increase his value to a realistic level of return.

At least, that's what Stute and Glaze are hoping for, and they have the history to make it work. Their best horse together was General Jimmy, a son of The Irish Lord who won several stakes in the early 1980's and also gave Stute one of his all-time favorite racetrack stories.

"He was running in a stake at Del Mar," Stute said. "I had Pat Valenzuela on him. He leaves the gate, opens up four, and wins by five. We're standing in the winner's circle and somebody claims foul. They take him down and place him last. Ray runs back up to the box where his son was and says, 'Well, what could have happened worse?' His son looks at him and says, 'Dad, he could have finished where they placed him.' "