The problem when you shop for horses is not how to get them into the shopping bags. It's money. You need lots and lots of money. Or you need lots and lots of horse sense. Trainer Richard Mulhall has plenty of the latter. At the Hollywood Park sale of 2-year-olds a year ago, Mulhall had a budget of $35,000, and he spent $39,000. To be sure, the extra $4,000 was well spent.
On Sunday, Mulhall's bargain-basement gelding, Chart The Stars, held off the leg-weary challenges of Alysheba and Temperate Sil, a pair of more highly regarded 3-year-olds, to win the 50th running of the San Felipe Handicap at Santa Anita. Chart The Stars, who went off at 7-2, No. 3 with the bettors, covered the 1[1/16] miles in 1:43. Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye steered the gelding through a tiny opening on the rail as the horses came out of the final turn and gave Mulhall his first Grade I stakes victory, worth $107,450.
Mulhall, 46, has had his own stable for 25 years and is based at Santa Anita. Yet the track's p.r. department didn't even have a file on him. File this: Mulhall says he started as a rodeo cowboy, riding broncos and bulls. For five years he galloped and groomed thoroughbreds for trainer Willie Molter. At 21, he started his own stable.
Which won't be confused with the one D. Wayne Lukas runs across the road from Mulhall. Mulhall trains 22 horses. Lukas has nearly that many (17, to be exact) nominated for the Triple Crown races. Lukas buys horses for such plutocrats as Eugene Klein. Mulhall owns Chart The Stars with Jack Arnold, Wally Clearman and Chris Clark, who are, respectively, a developer, a restaurateur and an equine-insurance man.
"I had to pull teeth to get them to go to $39,000," Mulhall jokes. Actually, what he did was become a partner. Mulhall owns 17½% of the horse; the others each have 27½%.
Chart The Stars is by Star De Naskra, the 1979 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter, out of Fair Astrologer. Two months after his current owners bought him, Chart The Stars started getting too rambunctious. His neck also became overdeveloped, which affected his conformation. So they had him gelded. He then finished second in his first three starts, all sprints this winter at Santa Anita. On Feb. 15, Chart The Stars broke his maiden in a 6½-furlong race. On March 7, he placed second in the $158,500 San Rafael Stakes, five lengths behind Masterful Advocate, a $5,500 bargain who is the favorite for the Santa Anita Derby on April 4. Mulhall says that if Chart The Stars "runs decent" in the Santa Anita, he will ship him to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby.
The San Felipe was supposed to be a race of redemption for the two colts with the tony bloodlines, Alysheba and Temperate Sil. Both were coming off disappointing first runs as 3-year-olds. Temperate Sil, the soundalike son of 1980 Belmont winner Temperence Hill, had finished fifth, nearly 17 lengths behind Masterful Advocate, in the San Rafael. Trainer Charlie Whittingham blamed that performance on an off track.
Alysheba, a bay son of Alydar, had run fourth in an allowance race at Santa Anita on March 8. "We'd rather he done that than knock himself out," says trainer Jack Van Berg. "I wouldn't trade places with nobody else right now."
But Sunday's race belonged to Chart The Stars. Going around the far turn, he was boxed in. Delahoussaye thought the gelding was going to hit the rail, but Something Lucky proved to be just that for Chart The Stars. He drifted slightly and Delahoussaye slipped through.
The winner finished three quarters of a length ahead of Alysheba, who charged into the stretch four wide but then lugged in before the finish. Alysheba finished 2¾ lengths in front of Temperate Sil. Something Lucky faded to fourth. Two Lukas horses, War and Barb's Relic, both coming off impressive wins, finished fifth and sixth, respectively. But Lukas still has two of the early Kentucky Derby favorites in Capote and Talinum.
Mulhall was shopping again on Sunday at Hollywood Park before heading to Santa Anita. He didn't buy any stock, but, then, this was a day to celebrate. There will be other days to buy horses. Sunday was a day to buy champagne.