Harty hopes speed won’t kill A.P. Warrior at Oak Tree

Sep 27, 2005 2:14 AM

The spotlight will be on Rock Hard Ten Saturday at Santa Anita when he uses the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap as his only prep for the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29.

Value will be scarce as a G-rated movie on the son of Kris S. in the mile and an eighth race, which could draw as few as four starters, since trainer Doug O’Neill has opted to run the speedy Lava Man in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park Saturday. Bettors looking for a more attractive price at Santa Anita might exercise patience and wait until Sunday, when A.P. Warrior runs in the Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds at 11/16 miles.

A $1.3 million son of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, A.P. Warrior won his debut race by four lengths under Garrett Gomez, then finished a disappointing sixth of 11, beaten 6 ½ lengths, under Patrick Valenzuela in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7. In the eyes of trainer Eoin Harty, it was not one of P. Val’s classic rides. Harty strongly suggests drawing a line through the race.

"He rode the horse like crap," Harty said of Valenzuela’s gun and run style, only Eoin (pronounced Owen) did not say "crap." Instead he used the most vulgar word for excrement, adding, "and you can absolutely quote me."

Consider it done.

"Valenzuela gunned him out of the gate and went toe-to-toe with four other horses for the lead," Harty recalled, smoke fuming from his ears. "It was ridiculous. If you put any horse on the lead going toe-to-toe, especially a 2-year-old making his second start, it serves no purpose."

But don’t expect Valenzuela to shrink from the criticism. His faith and optimism has helped him overcome greater hurdles than a few harsh words. Plus, Harty will give him another chance on A.P. Warrior in the Norfolk.

"When I feel a little tired or a tiny bit down, I turn to my bible or Christ and ask for strength," Valenzuela said. "You can take all the Red Bull you want or do whatever but when you really need inner strength you need spirituality. That picks me up more than anything else."

Harty, a 42-year-old native of Dublin, Ireland, hails from a family of Irish horsemen who extend back five generations. Grandfather, great grandfather and great-great grandfather were trainers on the Emerald Isle.

Eoin came to the United States at 17 and was tutored by a fellow Irishman, the late John Russell, before spending a seven-year stint as Bob Baffert’s go-to guy. Harty most recently enjoyed success as the trainer of Godolphin Racing’s American-based 2-year-olds.

His track record in the Norfolk is exemplary. In the past four years he has won it twice, with the recently returned Ruler’s Court in 2003 and Essence of Dubai in 2001. Baffert won with Roman Ruler in 2004 and Kafwain in 2002. Harty was second three times, with Boston Glory last year, Ibn Al Haitham in 2001 and Street Cry in 2000.

A.P. Warrior is owned by Stan Fulton, a man who knows his way around a race track and a guy with an eye for a good horse. He is proprietor of Sunland Park in New Mexico, so $1.3 mil is relative tip money to a mogul of such means.

Harty says it adds no more stress whether he’s training Secretariat or Zippy Chippy.

"There’s no more pressure training a horse that cost $1.3 million," Harty said. "They’re all the same."

Although at press time Harty had not disclosed what his pre-race Norfolk instructions to Valenzuela would be, he went this far: "I know this: he won’t get a similar ride."

The homestretch:

Mighty Megahertz, the "Little Equine That Could" and No. 1 in Bobby Frankel’s heart, seeks her 13th win from 33 career starts in Saturday’s $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes, which Frankel won the last two years with Tate’s Creek and Light Jig.

”¡ Bob Baffert reveals two of his 2-year-old prospects, Enforcement and Midnite Lute, are out of action with undisclosed ailments, but he plans to run Bob and John and Da Stoops in the Norfolk, a race he won last year with Roman Ruler.

”¡ Southern California-based Unfurl The Flag and Woke Up Dreamin will pass the Grade I Ancient Title at Santa Anita on Oct. 8 to run in Saturday’s Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont, leaving the likes of Greg’s Gold, Captain Squire and McCann’s Mojave to contest the Ancient Title.

”¡ Santa Anita’s turf course drew rave reviews after 30 turf specialists, many of them stakes winners, had their first works over it last Wednesday. "I worked two horses and the course was great," Corey Nakatani said. "It was good footing and they bounced right along and seemed like they were handling it well. That’s the main thing, safety for horses and riders."

”¡ One prominent trainer, so disillusioned with the wear and tear on his horses at Del Mar this summer, told me that if the seaside track doesn’t install a synthetic Polytrack surface like Turfway Park, he won’t race there next season.

”¡ Mel Stute is the all-time training leader at Fairplex with 182 wins but at the rate 37-year-old Doug O’Neill is winning, Stute won’t be surprised if his record is soon surpassed. "It took me 52 years to win all my races," the 75-year-old Stute said. "The way this new kid is going, he’s going to go by me in about 10 years."

”¡ Tip to Oak Tree bettors: Don’t overlook horses coming in from Fairplex.