Road to derby trying for trainers as well as horses

Mar 19, 2002 5:08 AM

Getting to the Kentucky Derby can be tougher on the trainer than it is on the horse.

The road to the Run for the Roses is more hype than humdrum, more hoopla than hope.

At least that’s the opinion of David Hofmans, who saddled Millennium Wind to an 11th-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby, and who has one of the future book favorites this year in Siphonic.

“Absolutely, it’s more pressure for the trainer than it is on the horse,” said the 59-year-old Hofmans. “Even though Millennium Wind wasn’t one of the favorites last year, there still was plenty of demand and ­­attention given to him.

“The unfortunate part is, at the Kentucky Derby, there are a lot of sports writers who don’t know about horse racing, and they just get in the way. And they don’t understand that they’re in the way. That’s the hardest part, sifting through all that stuff.”

If dealing with puzzled members of the press is testing for good-natured guys like Hofmans, imagine what it’s like for acerbic trainers such as Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale, who would prefer to train in a vacuum. But it is routine for trainers of Derby favorites to meet with the so-called ink-stained wretches daily leading up to the race, so they can pick the blathered brains of the harried horsemen.

Although both horse and trainer have mellow personalties, Siphonic could have it much easier than Hofmans on the Derby trail.

“Siphonic has the kind of temperament that can handle all the rigmarole and pressure of the Derby,” Hofmans said. “Most horses do handle it well. Some nervous horses, though, get to that Derby scene and there’s so much commotion they’re overwhelmed by it. Siphonic has a particularly good mind and attitude. I think the pressure that people read about is more hype than something to actually be concerned with. The media makes too much of it.”

Hofmans won the 1997 Belmont Stakes with Touch Gold, who denied Silver Charm the Triple Crown. Touch Gold didn’t run in the Derby, then had the nightmare trip of all-time in the Preakness, where he finished fourth. It takes a mature horse to recover from such an eventful race. Touch Gold was such an animal, and so is Siphonic.

“Siphonic is more like Touch Gold than he is like Millennium Wind,” Hofmans said. “Millennium Wind (who is still in training at Hollywood Park) was a faster horse than both Siphonic and Touch Gold, and more aggressive. But Siphonic can be rated. You can do more with him.”

Now if Hofmans could only do something with those pesky paparazzi.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Hofmans planned to scope Siphonic after he finished a weary third as the 2-5 favorite in the San Felipe Stakes, won by Frankel newcomer Medaglia d’Oro. “He got rubber-legged and just didn’t finish,” Hofmans said of Siphonic, who was beaten six lengths after leading at the top of the stretch. “We’ll see if anything went wrong and re-evaluate where we’re going from here.” Said Siphonic’s jockey, Jerry Bailey: “Turning for home, I thought I had a lot of horse . . . and I really had nothing left.” . . . Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer of San Felipe runner up U S S Tinosa, says he’ll look at a mile and an eighth race for his colt next, either the Santa Anita Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes, the Illinois Derby or the California Derby . . . Neil Drysdale wasn’t saying at press time, but Sunday Break could surface in either the Spiral or the Rushaway at Turfway Park, or the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. All three races are Saturday, and the Japan-bred son of Forty Niner blew out four furlongs Sunday in :49.20 . . . Azillion, Bob Hess Jr.’s Triple Crown hopeful, will miss the major 3-year-old races this spring due to an ankle injury . . . Trainer Paul Aguirre has been fined $1,500 by the California Horse Racing Board for “wagering on a competing horse” in a race in which he ran a horse. The word is one of his owners bought him a winning consolation Pick Six ticket which did not have Aguirre’s horse singled, and which Aguirre cashed, a violation of CHRB rule 1970. Even if a trainer uses his horse with others in an exotic wager, it’s a no-no, although the regulation is not stringently enforced . . . More bad news from the March meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, from the TOC’s Jim Ghidella, who, in his Northern California report cautioned “that when Bay Meadows opens on April 3 there could be difficulty filling races. Not only is the Workers’ Compensation crisis driving people out of state, recent wet weather has led to an unusual number of injured horses. Many horsemen from Washington and Canada were planning to leave early to avoid California’s expensive Workers’ Comp rates. Ghidella said that this summer, the fairs may have short fields as out of state horsemen may decide to go elsewhere for the same reason.”