03/29/2009 11:00PM

Well Armed follows plan to fruition


ARCADIA, Calif. - It's April 1, so watch out for the pranksters. But here's one you can believe . . .

Jake's horse won the Dubai World Cup. He won it like a longshoreman kicking kittens, by 14 lengths, better known as a Dubai city block. He taunted them, trashed them, and then spiked the ball in a $6 million end zone. Albertus Minimus. Asthmatic Boy. Casino Dry Hole. They made Well Armed look like the second coming of Bucephalus, and he made them look, well, ordinary.

Jake Vinci, the master sergeant in the Eoin Harty hierarchy, watched last Saturday's World Cup in the relative isolation of neighbor Darrell Vienna's stable office, alongside a few of the Vienna crew. Vinci was in Dubai with the big horse last year when Well Armed impressed everyone with his third-place finish to Curlin. But he gave up his seat on the plane this time around to assistant trainer Oliver Costello, whose parents were making the trip from England. Such gestures still count for something.

As a result, instead of enjoying the view from the top of the Thoroughbred world, Vinci could be found in the moments after the race walking alone down a dusty Santa Anita stable road, fielding phone calls and accepting congratulations from the scattering of familiars still on the morning scene.

"That old saying is true," Vinci said, heading for his car. "Victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan. I've never had so many people say congratulations to me since I was arrested."

And where was he going to celebrate the fact that his favorite inmate had just won the world's richest race?

"I guess I'm going to Monrovia," Vinci said with a grin. "Then back here to saddle two."

To appreciate the respect in which Well Armed is held in the Harty stable it must be understood that this particular horse can do no wrong. He has earned that right, during a career of 22 races and no fewer than seven international flights. For the past 15 months, Well Armed has ducked nothing.

"Last year in Dubai, when we were coming from the paddock to the track, and I saw Curlin walk by, I knew Judge Bean was in town and the ballgame was over," Vinci said. "It was probably the best race of Curlin's life, and we had to be there. But that's all right, because as soon as that was over we were planning for this year.

"He's a wonderful horse," Vinci added. "Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't. But more often than not it does. I can name a lot of older geldings like that. They're my favorites, and we need more like 'em."

Bill Casner, who bred the World Cup winner with his WinStar Farms partner Kenny Troutt, let his emotions flow after the race, allowing as how they never, ever gave up on Well Armed as a good horse who simply needed the right time and place to prove it.

Too big for his own good, but fast into action and long on lung, Well Armed was first tried as a grass horse in England, then on the dirt in Dubai, and then on to California, in late 2007, to give the new synthetics surfaces a try. Since then, with Harty and Vinci, Well Armed has made a memorable mark, beating subsequent Santa Anita Handicap winner Heatseeker on the square in the 2008 San Antonio, winning the San Diego and the Goodwood, and coming within a neck of taking the Pacific Classic.

"He is something else," Harty said, back to work at Santa Anita on Monday morning. "Very calculating. Everything he does, he assesses the situation and moves on. It's his world, but he tolerates us. He likes attention, so you can pet on him for a time, but then at some point he feels his manhood is being threatened, and all of a sudden the ears go back. There's not a harmful bone in his body, but if he wants to act like a badass, so be it.

"I'll tell you how smart this horse is," the trainer went on. "When you go to Dubai you're always concerned about hydration. Well, you know you can lead a horse to water, but making them drink is another matter. He stands at the front of his stall, and every hour he gives a couple of bangs on the front of the stall with his foot, which means, 'Hey, buddy, give me some water.' He takes a few sips and that's it. Between him and his groom, Geronimo Rodriguez, you could send them to Uzbekistan and not worry about them."

In the spirit of what have you done lately, Harty and his team will be spending the rest of this week getting Mr. Hot Stuff ready for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, won last year by his full brother Colonel John. It was only recently, with a smart maiden score and a second in the Sham Stakes, that Mr. Hot Stuff awoke to the fact that he was racehorse with a job. If he's meant to run in the Kentucky Derby, first he'll need to deal with Pioneerof the Nile, The Pamplemousse, and Chocolate Candy.

"He's improved since the Sham, but he's got a tall order," Harty said. "Maybe I'll take him down to the other end and give him about 48 hours in Well Armed's stall."