03/12/2008 11:00PM

Walsh stands firm with her Georgie Boy

Benoit & Associates
Georgie Boy will run in Saturday's San Felipe at Santa Anita.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Being on the backstretch, training horses, it's the life Kathy Walsh was born into, the life she once walked away from, and the life to which she came running back. It's where she belongs. To those who have not come across her while she was based at Longacres, the San Francisco Bay area, Canterbury Downs, and now Hollywood Park, it might be hard to imagine the impact Walsh has had on countless women on the racetrack. Though she sloughs it off, Walsh is an icon, a trailblazer, much like Billie Jean King in tennis.

Walsh, 68, is the daughter of trainer Jim Walsh, who died in 1970, thrusting his daughter into the spotlight. She proceeded to win four training titles at Longacres during the 1970s, and ended the decade by being given an award by Longacres to a trainer displaying integrity both on an off the track. Just as the George Woolf Award is coveted by jockeys nationally, so too was the Steve O'Donnell Memorial Award among trainers at Longacres.

But Walsh left training in 1980, when she got married. Five years later, she returned to training. And she hasn't left.

"I tried marriage and it didn't work," she said Wednesday morning at Hollywood Park. "It wasn't my bag. I'm not very good at taking orders."

She is very good at training horses. Within a couple of years of returning to training, Walsh was atop the standings for two straight seasons at Canterbury in Minnesota. And now the spotlight may really shine.

Walsh is the trainer of Georgie Boy, who was one of nine horses entered Wednesday for the Grade 2, $200,000 San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita. Georgie Boy won last year's Del Mar Futurity, and in his first start this year was a dazzling winner of the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.

The San Felipe will mark his first try around two turns, so Georgie Boy will be out to prove he is more than a late-running sprinter. If Georgie Boy runs well, he will move on to the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5, and then the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.

It's a road Walsh has been down before. Ten years ago, she finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby with Hanuman Highway, who had just missed winning the Arkansas Derby three weeks earlier.

"People can tell you what it's like to go to the Kentucky Derby, but you can't predict what the intensity is like," Walsh said. "It's overwhelming. The thing I learned from that experience is not to let the press or anyone else tell you what to do with your horse. You got there doing what you know is best. You have to stick with the plan that got you there, and not get caught up in the pressure cooker."

That courage and conviction was on display last fall, when Walsh decided to give Georgie Boy an extended vacation following the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5. That was his fifth race of the year, and third in seven weeks at Del Mar. With the Norfolk Stakes and then the Breeders' Cup Juvenile looming, many a trainer might have been tempted to go on, even if it meant supplementing to the Breeders' Cup. Walsh said she was fortunate to have a willing partner in George Schwary, the owner and breeder of Georgie Boy.

"You've got to realize that these horses can't dance every dance," Walsh said. "Horses are bred different from years ago. Their pedigrees are different. The tracks are different. That helps make it so tough. Fortunately, I have an owner that respects me and trusts me. We made a pact that if Georgie Boy ran in the Del Mar Futurity, we'd give him time afterwards. He was all for it.

"Georgie Boy was not nominated to the Breeders' Cup. To have one more dance in the Norfolk would not have been the best thing, and it would have put him a month behind getting him ready for his 3-year-old year."

But Walsh took some flak.

"It's shocking how many trainers there are out there who don't have trainer's licenses," she said.

Georgie Boy was scheduled to make his first start of the year on Jan. 26 in the six-furlong Sunshine Millions Dash, but the hard, fast Santa Anita track that day caused Walsh to reconsider. She scratched Georgie Boy, and brought him back Feb. 10 in the seven-furlong San Vicente.

"The track was messed up, and going six furlongs on that track, there was only one way to go," she said. "That kind of race would not have been good for the horse."

Walsh currently trains 20 horses, four of whom are owned fully or in part by Schwary (pronounced Swore-ee). Georgie Boy is the best, and must rank among the best Walsh has ever trained, a list that includes Nany's Sweep, who won the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap in 2001.

Walsh has been training stakes winners for more than 30 years, since the days of Auguste in the 1974 Governor's Handicap at Longacres. She came into the sport both privileged, as the daughter of a trainer, and persecuted, for being a woman in a sport whose latent chauvinism exists today, let alone three decades ago.

"It wasn't as dramatic a change for me after my father died, because I had worked for him the last five years of his life, when he was really ill, and I had great clients, like Joe Gottstein," Walsh said. "But it was tough for women then. I think a lot of women came around, not all, but some, who thought it was all glory and romantic and fun to be a trainer. A lot of people didn't get chances. But if you were willing to work, there were lots of opportunities."

In other Derby developments:

* Georgie Boy drew post 4 in the San Felipe. His rivals include Bob Black Jack, Gayego, and Shediak, all of whom are on the top 25 of .

* The unbeaten War Pass, last year's champion 2-year-old male, is expected to face few rivals on Saturday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

* With Denis of Cork bypassing the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on Saturday, Risen Star runner-up Z Fortune figures to be a strong favorite against the likes of Anak Nakal.

* If Court Vision runs in the Florida Derby, he will need a new rider, because Garrett Gomez is scheduled to be in Dubai on Marcho29. And if Court Vision runs in the Wood Memorial a week later at Aqueduct, Gomez will have to choose between him and Colonel John, who runs that day in the Santa Anita Derby. Fortunately for Gomez, both colts are owned, wholly or in part, by the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Trout. If he runs in the Wood, and Gomez rides, Corey Nakatani will regain the mount on Colonel John. Nakatani missed Colonel John's last race while healing from a broken collarbone.


There are two newcomers to this week's Derby Watch top 25. Big Brown, a powerful allowance winner last week at Gulfstream Park, comes in at 25-1 on the Kentucky Derby future line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. European import Shediak, who is scheduled to make his United States debut on Saturday in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, is pegged at 40-1. Pyro's victory in the Louisiana Derby last Saturday put him ever closer to War Pass on Watchmaker's line. Pyro is down to 7-2 from last week's 4-1, a half-point behind the 3-1 on War Pass, Watchmaker's current favorite to win the May 3 Derby. Visionaire, who won the Gotham Stakes, tumbled to 25-1 from last week's 40-1.


Both J Be K and Giant Moon were dropped following poor performances last week. J Be K could not handle his first try around two turns in the Louisiana Derby. Giant Moon finished last in the Gotham, though he obviously hated the sloppy surface. Majestic Warrior and Tale of Ekati, who both disappointed in the Louisiana Derby, saw their prices double from last week. Watchmaker now has Majestic Warrior at 40-1, and Tale of Ekati at 50-1.


For the second straight week, Hey Byrn just missed the cut. Also under consideration were My Pal Charlie, the runner-up in the Louisiana Derby, and Texas Wildcatter, who was second in the Gotham. With the Rebel, San Felipe, and Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, plus the ungraded WinStar Derby on Sunday, more candidates could emerge.

- Jay Privman