08/23/2010 3:45PM

In Temple City, Gaines has new star on the rise

Benoit & Associates
Temple City's victory in the Cougar II was his biggest career win.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The commotion started early on the afternoon of July 30, and before long a half-dozen horses in trainer Carla Gaines’s barn at Del Mar were stomping around their stalls.

Temple City was the cause of it all. The 5-year-old horse had figured out he was going to race in a few hours, and was taking his excitement out on a beach ball tethered to the ceiling of his stall. He wanted his neighbors to be aware of it.

“He was like a little kid going, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go,’ ” Gaines said.

All the fuss was worth it. Later that day, Temple City won the biggest race of his career in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap over 1 1/2 miles. The win has led Gaines and owner B. Wayne Hughes to plan a start in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic with a horse who seemed like an improbable candidate for such a race last year.

“Last year, he had lingering issues with his feet and his shins,” Gaines said. “He had chronic sore shins, and with time it has come around.”

Gaines credits maturity, which seems to have gone to Temple City’s head, too.

“He was always a backward horse mentally, really nervous,” Gaines said. “We had to do all kinds of things. We had to school him and he always washed out. That’s all behind him. He goes over there now like he’s an old pro.”

This year, despite getting antsy in his stall on raceday, Temple City has been easier to work with, Gaines said, and the results have been evident. He made his 2010 stakes debut in the Grade 2 American Handicap on turf at Hollywood Park on July 4, finishing second by a head, and won the Cougar II Handicap in his following start. It has led to high expectations for the Pacific Classic, the only seven-figure Thoroughbred race in California this year.

Gaines’s stable scored its first stakes win of 2010 in the Cougar II, but overall has had a productive year. Through Sunday, Gaines, 58, had 24 wins this year, four fewer than all of 2009. She is on course to challenge her personal best of 42 wins in a season, set in 2006 and 2008.

Having that much success in 2010 did not seem possible after the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting earlier this year when the stable had seven wins from 64 starters. “We had such a slow start to the year,” she said. “It was dreadful.”

With the promise of Temple City and the expected comeback of the reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, Dancing in Silk,s from a seven-month break in the $75,000 Pirate’s Bounty Stakes on Sept. 8, the final months of 2010 could be successful for Gaines.

There are promising 2-year-olds that could join the list of accomplished horses. Gaines has high expectations for Lofty Ambition, a Sky Mesa filly who was seventh in her debut on Aug. 8 but found to be ill afterward; Runflatout, a colt by Flatter who has yet to start; and Parable, a colt by A.P. Indy owned by Hughes.

“Runflatout is a very nice colt,” she said. “I have some other nice ones but I don’t know if they’ll make it [at Del Mar].”

In a separate category is the 2-year-old filly Naschiller, a half-sister to Nashoba’s Key, who won 8 of 10 starts, six stakes, and $1,252,090 for Gaines and Warren Williamson. Nashoba’s Key, who raced for Williamson, was a finalist for the outstanding turf female of 2007. Sadly, she was euthanized after suffering a severe leg injury in her stall on the Hollywood Park backstretch in May 2008.

For Gaines, the loss of the mare came at a devastating time, days after the death of her brother.

“My brother died and my birthday was two days later,” she said. “Nashoba’s died three days after I got home from his funeral.”

She said her reaction to those weeks was “compete numbness. You see people on the sidewalk going through their everyday lives, and you think, ‘Don’t you know what happened?’ ”

Recalling those days last weekend brought tears to her eyes. She quickly changed the subject.

In the Pacific Classic, Gaines will be after her second seven-figure win, preceded by the BC Sprint with Dancing in Silks at Santa Anita last November. Hughes won the $1.5 million BC Juvenile in 2003 with Action This Day, who was trained by Richard Mandella.

Gaines and Hughes considered starting Temple City in Sunday’s $200,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf, but have opted for the richer and more prestigious race on Saturday.

“I don’t know why he couldn’t do it again,” Gaines said. “That’s basically why we’ve decided to try the Classic. He’s over those issues, and he’s mentally sounder and physically sounder. When you’re going that good, you’ve got to go for the big races.”