01/27/2011 5:17PM

Tom Proctor does things differently than his dad

Email

It’s easy to knock the winners of a restricted stakes race. After all, the concept of “restricted” does not exactly raise the gooseflesh when attached to an athletic endeavor, unless used in a sentence like, “The Super Bowl is restricted to the two biggest, meanest NFL teams left standing.”

Still, restrictions of participation need not necessarily eliminate the potential for excitement, or for the establishment of entertaining traditions. The Queen’s Plate is a restricted race, and yet look how it lifts the spirits of Canadians.

Then again, the Queen’s Plate is 151 years old. The Sunshine Millions, in only its ninth year, has a ways to go. There are encouraging signs, though, in the budding histories of the various races, even restricted as they are to the Thoroughbreds of Florida and California. A list of some of the more noteworthy winners would include Lost in the Fog, Ginger Punch, Southern Image, Miesque’s Approval, Lava Man, Benny the Bull, Georgie Boy, Go Between, and Moscow Burning.

The winner of the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita on Saturday figures to be added to that bunch if The Usual Q.T., Presious Passion, Caracortado, or Jeranimo comes through. Each of those runners brings a handsome reputation to the table. There are, however, four others in the field, including 2010 runner-up Pickapocket and California Cup Classic winner Soul Candy, so they might as well run it to see what happens.

Tom Proctor will be taking a shot in the Turf with the Glen Hill Farm-owned No Inflation, a 5-year-old gelding who has not seen the inside of a winner’s circle since his romp in the 2009 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park.

Proctor was at Gulfstream on Thursday morning, where his Florida string will be represented in Sunshine Millions events on Saturday by Broken Dreams in the $200,000 Filly and Mare Sprint and by Wild Mia in the $300,000 Filly and Mare Turf. Broken Dreams comes off a solid second to Unzip Me in the Monrovia Handicap at Santa Anita (defeating Evening Jewel in the process), while Wild Mia will be attempting to give Proctor his second straight victory in the Filly and Mare Turf, after he won it last year with Tight Precision.

“No Inflation is in tough, I know that,” Proctor said. “He’s the kind of horse I’d like to run over a lot more ground. He just kind of gets going at one pace, but going shorter distances there’s always something finishing faster than him.”

If nothing else, No Inflation has deep roots in the Proctor family. His sire, Repriced, was a rip-roaring 3-year-old on the California turf trained by Willard Proctor, Tom’s father, who died in 1998 after 60 years as a Thoroughbred trainer. He was 82.

Tom Proctor trained Feature Price, the dam of Repriced and half-sister to the accomplished filly Header Card and to the British colt Bellotto, second in two British classics. Feature Price also produced the major stakes winner Top Rung, trained by Willard Proctor for Glen Hill.

“She could really run, but she got messed up after her second start,” Proctor recalled of Feature Price. “As for Repriced, Dad trained him with a pony all the time and he ruined a lot of them, he was so tough. He got hurt and then got sick, and I think if that hadn’t happened he could have become a pretty good sprinter.”

Willard Proctor was a larger-than-life Texan who trained the likes of Gallant Romeo, Convenience, Dike, Woozem, Uniformity, and Lovlier Linda. Even today, when Tom Proctor ranks as an established horseman with a national reputation who sends his horses far and wide when the opportunities arise, the spectre of his father lingers in the corners of every backstretch.

“He’d wonder what the hell I was doing shipping all over the place to run instead of staying home,” Proctor said. “But that’s what you’ve got to be ready to do these days.”

One thing the elder Proctor never managed to do that his son did, just last weekend, was saddle two winners in the same race. It happened at Tampa Bay Downs, in an allowance race for a pretty good class of fillies and mares. At the end of 1 1/16 miles on the grass, Glens Falls winner Keertana, owned by Barbara Hunter, and You Go West Girl, owned by Craig Bernick (grandson of Glen Hill Farm’s Leonard Lavin), hit the wire in a finish too close to call.

“My first thought was, ’Wouldn’t it be nice to get my picture taken with both these fillies,’ ” Proctor said. When the dead-heat sign flashed, he got his wish.

“I just tell everybody I must really be good to be able to do that,” Proctor said with a laugh, knowing how funny that sounded. The real question, though, was obvious: What would Willard think?

“I hear that a lot,“ Proctor said. “And I go to bed every night thinking my Dad’s gonna chew my ass because what I’m doing ain’t the way he’d do it. I try to take care of the horses as good as I can, or as good as we always did. But nowadays you’ve got to move horses around, make things happen. My father came from a different generation, and the game itself was different. As good as he was, if I did things like him, I’d be out of business.”