Dramatic Turn
Buddy Gil's win at Santa Anita lands him a lead role in the Derby

Moviemakers know all about script revisions. Take last Saturday,
for instance. The Santa Anita Derby, the last West Coast prep for
the May 3 Kentucky Derby, was hyped as the race in which
Atswhatimtalknbout would cement his place among the Churchill
Downs favorites. His story would be writ large for a month,
focusing on the fact that he is part-owned by three Hollywood
power couples connected with the making of the upcoming movie
Seabiscuit.

That script was shredded in the less than two minutes required to
run last Saturday's race. With Steven Spielberg and his wife,
Kate Capshaw, one of the three couples who bought 10% of
Atswhatimtalknbout in March, watching, their 3-2 favorite ran a
dull, unthreatening fourth.

Yet moviemakers also know this: Where one story dies, another is
born. The winner of the Santa Anita Derby was the gelding Buddy
Gil, a modestly bred grinder who was foaled in Kentucky but
learned to race on a farm in Hagerman, Idaho, and who wasn't
eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby until his five owners made
him a supplemental entry after his upset win in the San Felipe on
March 16. And Buddy Gil has his own Seabiscuit connection: His
rider is Gary Stevens, who plays jockey George Wolff in the
movie.

Buddy Gil's latest win earned the horse respect for his
toughness, just as it invited suspicion for his plodding finish.
Stevens put Buddy Gil, who went off at 6-1, in a comfortable
sixth in the nine-horse field before letting him loose on the
turn for home. Buddy Gil held off Indian Express by a head but
ran the last three furlongs in a plodding 39 1/5, suggesting
that classier closers could nail him or that the additional
furlong in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby will be too much.

Then again, Buddy Gil has already beaten considerable odds.
Donnie McFadden, a Southern California native who moved to Idaho
33 years ago, broke Buddy Gil at his Billingsley Creek Ranch in
Hagerman. The gelding needed three tries to break his maiden last
fall, and after running seventh in the Golden Gate Derby on Jan.
11, his owners sent him from Northern California to Santa Anita
to work with trainer Jeff Mullins, 40, a rising star. Buddy Gil
won a grass sprint on Feb. 23 and then the San Felipe.

Stevens rode Buddy Gil in each of the horse's last three races, a
sweet streak for a jockey who has endured two extended breaks in
the last three years--in 2000 with a chronic knee injury and last
fall while shooting Seabiscuit. More prophetically, Stevens and
Mullins started their careers at bush-league tracks in Idaho.
Their families are friends, their roots intertwined. "Those
connections make this very important to me," says Stevens. "It
almost feels like destiny."

They make movies about that sort of thing.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (BUDDY GIL) Buddy Gil (4) and movie-bound actor Stevens won for the third straight time. COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Empire Maker

PICK SIX
With less than four weeks until the Kentucky Derby, on May 3,
here are the top contenders to wear the blanket of roses.

1. EMPIRE MAKER

THE SKINNY His mammoth run in the March 15 Florida Derby is still
the signature race of the prep campaign, but he doesn't want to
peak this weekend at Aqueduct.

NEXT Wood Memorial, Saturday

2. PEACE RULES

THE SKINNY Could there be a Bobby Frankel-trained exacta? Peace
Rules's run in the March 9 Louisiana Derby was the second-best
prep performance of the year.

NEXT Blue Grass, Saturday

3. BADGE OF SILVER

THE SKINNY He faded to sixth against Peace Rules in Louisiana,
but he now gets a rematch at a track (Keeneland) where he has won
before.

NEXT Blue Grass

4. BUDDY GIL

THE SKINNY The Santa Anita Derby winner had awful closing
fractions, but he's won three of four as a 3-year-old.

NEXT Kentucky Derby

5. NEW YORK HERO

THE SKINNY Like Buddy Gil, the winner of the March 22 Lane's End
was a supplemental nomination to the Derby. (The name is a Sept.
11 reference.)

NEXT Wood Memorial

6. INDIAN EXPRESS

THE SKINNY He has raced only four times but looked mighty game in
the Santa Anita Derby. And how can you keep Bob Baffert out of
the mix?

NEXT Kentucky Derby?

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)