06/30/2011 12:50PM

Triple Bend provides blast from the past

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The most exciting encounter between Bill Shoemaker and Triple Bend took place in the 1972 Santa Anita Handicap, a race so cool you still can find it on YouTube (although it still trails All-Time Skateboarding Bailouts by about half a million views).

A pretty good gray horse named Buzkashi – owned by Hollywood Park’s new CEO, Marjorie Everett – spooked shortly after the start from his inside post that day, veered left and hurdled the temporary guide rail leading out of the stretch chute.

Eddie Belmonte hit the deck, leaving Buzkashi to attack the permanent inside rail on his own, but his negotiation of this second barrier was not quite as successful. Airborne, he tumbled onto the turf course and became briefly entangled with a couple of movable fence panels, then scrambled up in a flash, wearing what best could be described as an expression of, “What? Who put that there?”

Meanwhile, Triple Bend and Don Pierce were on the engine, heading past the stands and into the first turn lapped alongside Unconscious and Angel Cordero, while Cougar II and Bill Shoemaker were tucked inside running fourth, biding their time.

This was deep water. Unconscious, the 127-pound topweight and winner already that year of the Strub and San Antonio, had been the post-time favorite in the 1971 Kentucky Derby. Cougar, California‘s most popular racehorse, would become grass champion of 1972. As for Triple Bend, his star was on the rise, having finished in a dead heat with Autobiography earlier in the season in the San Fernando Stakes.

By the time Triple Bend and Unconscious hit the top of the stretch together, Buzkashi and Belmonte had escaped to safety and the high-stepping Cougar was uncorking his run. As Unconscious weakened, Triple Bend and Pierce braced for Cougar’s final plunge. Shoemaker came at Triple Bend, sticking left-handed then right, while Pierce, as he’d planned all along, never touched Triple Bend. At the wire it was Triple Bend by a head in two minutes flat. Only Round Table and Quicken Tree had run the mile and a quarter of the Big Cap faster.

Good races named for Shoemaker and Triple Bend adorn the Hollywood Park program on Saturday as the holiday weekend commences, giving fans a chance to both pay homage and play some of the better animals on the circuit.

As far as that goes, just about any old race would have worked as a Shoemaker, since Shoe won all the big ones, and most of them more than once. At one lap of the grass course, the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile pays tribute to Shoemaker’s 1,000th win in a stakes race, the 1989 Premiere Handicap, which was run over the same ground and distance. After Shoemaker’s retirement in January of 1990, the Premiere was rechristened in his honor.

A main-track race at just about any distance would have suited Triple Bend’s memory, but the scales tipped to seven-eighths after he set a world record for the distance that summer of ‘72 at Hollywood Park and later added the Vosburgh Handicap at Aqueduct. Why wasn’t Triple Bend champion sprinter that year? Don’t know. Ask the folks who voted for Chou Croute.

The Shoemaker looks like Courageous Cat’s to lose, especially if he runs back to his 2009 Breeders’ Cup Mile second to Goldikova, or even if he repeats his recent comeback score in the Poker at Belmont Park. There will be an argument from the lanky Caracortado, who always fires, and from Liberian Freighter, a moody sort who would prefer to watch the post parade while seated at a Turf Club table, but who brings a tough, front-running game when the gates open.

Caracortado was most recently part of the scrum at the end of the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day. What else would you call it when you are sixth, beaten less than a length, after a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt? As it turns out, Caracortado wasn’t even supposed to be there.

“We wanted to run him in the Woodford Reserve the next day,” said trainer and co-owner Mike Machowsky. “But the way they wrote that race, giving preference to Group 1 and 2 winners, even in Brazil, he was going to be in trouble getting in.”

Caracortado’s last win in a graded stakes came in the 2010 Robert Lewis at Santa Anita. After beating The Usual Q. T. (a Grade 1 winner) in this year’s Sunshine Millions Turf, Caracortado was beaten a head in the Kilroe Mile, a race designated Grade 1.

“He so versatile, he went ahead and ran a big race in the Alysheba,” Machowsky added. “He didn’t even hold it against me. Now he’s back at what might be his best lick, at a mile on the grass.”

As far as the $250,000 Triple Bend is concerned, if there are any racing gods not watching Wimbledon this weekend they might want to give Amazombie a clean trip on Saturday, if only by way of cosmic apology. His disqualification from first to third in the recent Los Angeles Handicap marked one of those stewards’ decisions that shakes the foundations of the republic, or at least makes for lively cocktail debate.

The Triple Bend is a handicap, and Amazombie carries top weight of 123, up a pound from his star-crossed Los Angeles. This begs the kind of horse racing question both fun to pose and impossible to answer, at least with a straight face, to wit:

If we are to assume that Amazombie misbehaved in some way to finish first in the Los Angeles (his jockey, Mike Smith, was absolved), how can that race be taken as a true bill by which to impose an accurate weight assignment for the Triple Bend? Doesn’t losing the race and still picking up a pound smack of double jeopardy? And finally, is there no end to the persecution of all things zombie?