08/21/2008 12:00AM

Zappa could be Barber's next big hit


DEL MAR, Calif. - This will be a memorable Del Mar meeting for Gary Barber, regardless of whether Zappa pulls an upset in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic.

Through Tuesday, Barber led all owners with 13 wins, including Zappa's victory in the Cougar II Handicap on July 30. But the success has not come without controversy.

Last Monday, the stable of John Sadler, Barber's principal trainer and the leader in the Del Mar standings, was searched by California Horse Racing Board investigators. It is believed that investigators were looking for steroids, speculation that was fueled by comments from CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro at a meeting on Tuesday. At the meeting, Dr. Rick Arthur, the board's equine medical director, said that 38 horses tested positive for steroids in July and that "17 were with one trainer and 11 with a second trainer."

Shapiro then said, "Just look at the top of the trainers' and owners' list," while waving a document.

On Wednesday, Barber, who owns horses with his brother, Cecil, issued a statement with his brother saying that their trainers "to the best of our knowledge have complied with all rules and regulations."

The statement said that Shapiro and Arthur were "attempting to impugn the reputations of us as horse owners whose trainers do not comply with the ban before Sept. 4, 2008. Their actions are irresponsible and unprofessional."

The ban on steroids in California racing has been conducted in phases. The board gave trainers a notice of positives in July, has been giving out warnings that stay on a trainer's record for positive tests in August, and will begin meting out fines and suspensions for positives on tests conducted from Sept. 4.

Shapiro responded to the Barbers' statement by saying he never mentioned "anyone by name," but his comments did little to placate Gary Barber. Thursday morning, Barber was still upset. "It's fired me up," he said. "It's ridiculous.

"He didn't mention me by name, but he didn't have to," Barber said. "He said the top of the owners' list.

"I've been a strong proponent to get steroids out. If they want to set a rule, set a rule. The rule is Sept. 4, stop."

Barber's success at this meeting has come in races at all levels, from maiden claimers to stakes. But Zappa has been the biggest winner. A 6-year-old gelding trained by Sadler, Zappa's win in the Cougar II Handicap at 1 1/2 miles here on July 30 earned him an automatic berth to the newly created $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Before Barber had left the winner's circle that day, he said Zappa was a candidate for the Pacific Classic.

"He's a warrior," Barber said. "I love the horse. He gives his all. He's got a win over this track and that's an advantage."

As a claimer, Zappa is typical of many horses in the Barber stable. Barber claimed Zappa for $32,000 at Bay Meadows in April 2007 and transferred the gelding from Jerry Hollendorfer to Sadler a month later.

Zappa's first win for Barber came in a starter handicap at 1 3/8 miles at Fairplex Park last September. In January, Zappa won the most prestigious race of his career in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita. The Cougar II Handicap ended a five-race losing streak since that race, a span that included a fifth in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March and a third in an optional $125,000 claimer at Hollywood Park in June. Zappa was eligible to be claimed that day, but there were no takers.

Barber said he enjoys scouting claims, often working with Sadler or another of his trainers, Peter Miller, on prospects.

"I do study a lot," he said. "It's definitely a team effort."

Barber is the co-chief executive of the Hollywood production company Spyglass Entertainment, which has produced such popular films as "The Sixth Sense," "Shanghai Noon," "Bruce Almighty," and "Seabiscuit."

Both racing and filmmaking offer high risk and high yield, and no guarantees. Earlier this year, Spyglass produced "The Love Guru," starring Mike Myers, a film that was a disappointment at the box office.

Barber is excited about the Spyglass-produced "Four Christmases," a romantic comedy featuring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn that will be released in November.

In the last month, he has bounced frequently between Los Angeles and Del Mar. "This is not my day job," he said, smiling, while standing in the paddock last week.

As for the racehorses, Barber, 50, a native of South Africa, has several prospects racing in California, other parts of the United States, and even in South Africa with friends.

Barber's horse Tissy Fit, second in the Cougar II Handicap, is entered in Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on turf. Cost of Freedom, who set a six-furlong track record of 1:08.29 when winning an allowance race on Aug. 9, is bound for the California Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 5. Curiously Sweet, the winner of the Cat's Cradle Handicap at Hollywood Park last fall, is nearing a comeback later this year.

Barber moved to the United States from South Africa in 1982, shortly after winning a handicapping contest that featured a trip to the Arlington Million. He remains an avid handicapper.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "I've been in this for quite a long time. I was a horseplayer when I was young, 15 or 16."

One of the best horses he has owned was The Deputy, the winner of the 2000 Santa Anita Derby who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby that year. Currently, he is part of the partnership that owns Becrux, the millionaire and Grade 1 winner.

"I need another Becrux or The Deputy," Barber said. "It would be nice."