The name of the most exciting racehorse in the world today sounds like one of those expressions Minnie Pearl belts out from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville: Laaand-A-Looosee! Landaluce is a 2-year-old filly who came forward in July, a month when hundreds of other young horses take their first green steps on the track. The one certain thing about 2-year-olds in July is that they should seldom be taken seriously. The rule of thumb says, wait until October and November before getting excited about the horses that will run in the classics the following spring. But Landaluce is the exception to the rule. She took July and turned it into November.
After only two races she's being compared to some of the finest horses ever to knock over a feed tub, and if she somehow sustains the amazing form she has already shown, the sport is in for some heavenly days. In her first race, at Hollywood Park on July 3, Landaluce galloped off to win the six-furlong event by seven lengths in the flashy time of 1:08[1/5]. Among those she left in the ruck was her stablemate, the nicely named Some Kinda Flirt (by Quack from Winking Aye), who three weeks later won the $58,900 Lady Sponsors' Stakes at Ak-Sar-Ben. But it was Landaluce's second start that was really responsible for all the commotion.
This was the $77,500 Hollywood Lassie, again at six furlongs. Barzell, who was undefeated in two starts, one a stakes, was supposed to be Landaluce's main opposition. Landaluce toyed with her and the three other fillies in the race. Just before the top of the stretch, Landaluce was 1½ lengths in front, and at the finish she led Bold Out Line by 21 lengths, crossing the line in 1:08, which is believed to be the fastest any 2-year-old filly has ever run six furlongs. Perhaps the best description of the race came from jockey Ray Sibille, who rode Bold Out Line. "I saw Landaluce briefly," Sibille said. "When I looked up ahead it seemed like her feet were floating."
It's the 21 lengths that clears one's sinuses. No horse has ever won a stakes at Hollywood Park by such a large margin, and the track has been open for 44 years. (Granted, in 1974 Chris Evert defeated Miss Musket by 50 lengths in a match race there, but match races rarely turn out to be good races and Miss Musket was hopelessly beaten and was eased through the final part of that race.)
In fact, racing records rarely turn up a 2-year-old who wins by as much as 21 lengths. Seattle Slew took a 2-year-old race by 9¾, and Secretariat won one by eight as a 2-year-old, but Man o' War's biggest winning margin at that age was six. Count Fleet, however, won the Walden Stakes at Pimlico by 30 lengths. Among fillies, only one ever got close to Landaluce's margin: On May 22, 1974 at Belmont Park, a filly equaled the track record by going 5½ furlongs in 1:03 and winning by 15. Her name? Ruffian.
Tremors shook the racing world following Landaluce's victory in the Lassie. "It was the greatest performance by a 2-year-old I've ever looked at," says Laz Barrera, the man who trained Affirmed, the 1977 2-year-old champion colt, and It's In The Air, the 1978 2-year-old filly co-champion. "Landaluce cost $650,000 as a yearling in 1981," Barrera says, "and after looking at film of the Lassie over and over again, I went to the Keeneland yearling sales and bought her full sister for $1.5 million for Dolly Green, one of my owners. That's how much Landaluce has impressed me. Two-year-olds come and go but Landaluces don't."
That film of the Lassie, which Barrera and thousands of others have now seen on either the late news in California or over ESPN's Horse Racing Weekly, is a marvelous document. The camera shows Landaluce 1½ lengths in front after the quarter pole and then follows her as she widens. And widens. And widens. The camera stays on Landaluce as she gallops out at the clubhouse turn before turning back to the finish line. A full three seconds pass before the next horse reaches the line. "That film looks like a trick," says Loren Rettele, the trainer of Bold Out Line. "It looks like two different horse races, the one with Landaluce in it and another race. I guess I was lucky to be only beaten 21 lengths. Not long after the Lassie we were able to sell Bold Out Line for a very good price because she finished second to Landaluce."
Laffit Pincay Jr., the current leading jockey in the U.S., who has ridden the filly in both of her races, was also impressed. "I have never been on a horse like Landaluce," he says. "In her second start I just slapped her over on the shoulder with my whip. She took off like a rocket ship. Normally I'm not a superstitious man, but I walk around these days with my fingers crossed, hoping nothing happens to her. When I see Wayne Lukas [Landaluce's trainer] walking toward me, my instinct is to turn away. I'm afraid he's going to tell me that something has gone wrong. I never want to hear that she has even turned a hair."
Landaluce, who's named after Francisco Landaluce, the guide and host at a Spanish ranch where the filly's owners went on a hunting trip last year, is from the first crop of 27 horses produced by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. (She's out of the Bold Bidder mare Strip Poker.) A year ago, seven Slew yearlings were sold at auction for an average price of $380,000, a figure that put Slew fourth among sires represented at auction. However, a few days after Landaluce's Lassie victory, 10 yearlings from Slew's second crop went under the hammer in Lexington—and fetched an average of $653,000.
To understand the impact of Landaluce on this year's sales, one must compare the Seattle Slew yearlings with those of J.O. Tobin, the first horse to beat Slew. In July of 1977, after rolling through the classics as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in history, Slew was sent from New York to California to run in the $300,000 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood. The trip was ill-advised, to say the least. Slew should have had his shoes pulled after the Belmont, something his trainer, Billy Turner, wanted to do. Slew's owners, however, chose to go to California, and the result was that J.O. Tobin became an instant celebrity by beating him. Last year J.O.'s first crop of yearlings went to the sales rings and did very well, averaging $361,700—only $18,300 below the Slew yearlings. This year J.O.'s average fell to $184,000, a staggering $469,000 less than Slew's Laaand-A-Looosee!
Landaluce is owned by Barry Beal and Bob French of Midland, Texas and trained by Lukas, who currently is among the leaders in the nation in stakes victories. Five years ago Lukas went to the sales at Keeneland and bid $275,000 to get a filly from the second crop of another Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. Eventually named Terlingua, she won her first four races, and then Lukas shipped her east in the fall of 1978 to try to win the Eclipse Award as the nation's top filly. Unfortunately, Terlingua was beaten twice and ultimately lost the title to It's In The Air and Candy Eclair. Lukas, Beal and French want the Eclipse Award for Landaluce, but the chances of her being shipped east are zilch.
"We'll do what we think is exactly the right thing for Landaluce," says Lukas. "I don't think we have to go east to prove anything. If anybody wants to believe they have a better filly then she is, then they can ship to face Landaluce." Lukas is contemplating two possible courses for his filly. "We can go to Arlington Park," he says, "and run against the colts in the $500,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity on Aug. 28. Or we can stay at Del Mar and run against fillies in the $125,000 Del Mar Debutante on September 5."
Lukas' next move is of great interest, because Landaluce's fame has spread throughout the nation. "The day after she won the Lassie, the phone kept jangling off the hook," he says. "Good Morning America called, among others, and I didn't think I'd live to see the day when Good Morning America would call a 2-year-old filly. When I went to Kentucky for the sales two weeks ago, it seemed that everyone was talking about Landaluce. And the mail is coming in already. In the 27 years I've been training quarter horses and thoroughbreds, I've never encountered the reaction that she has generated. We're having pictures of her made up so that if any little girl or boy in Des Moines falls in love with Landaluce, they can write to us and get a picture."
Because Landaluce runs so fast and is exposed to the hard California surfaces, there is concern that the filly will break down. "Sure," Lukas says, "that's always in the back of the mind of anyone who has a good horse. But don't worry, she'll be well taken care of. John Nerud [the president and general manager of Tartan Farm, which has sent Lukas many fine horses, among them Codex and Stalwart] called me the day that we shipped Landaluce from Hollywood Park down to Del Mar. 'How did she ship?' John asked. I said, 'John, we got a special way to ship her. We wrap her gorgeous ass all up in Styrofoam so that only her head sticks out and she just moves right on down the highway.' " Fast.