Came Home slowly wins everything, but support

Apr 16, 2002 9:47 AM

There’s an old tale about the band of fretting politicos who cornered President Lincoln to express their concern about the excessive drinking of the Union’s great military leader, General Ulysses S. Grant.

After listening to the critics patiently, the sagacious Lincoln turned towards them, and, as was his wont, came up with the perfect squelch: “I’m going to find out what he’s drinking,” Lincoln said, “and give it to all my Generals.”

Came Home has far more critics than victories, and he’s won six of seven races. If his detractors are not questioning his ability to get a distance, they’re knocking his slow running time in winning the Santa Anita Derby. Time for the 11/8 miles was 1:50.02, the slowest Derby since Candy Spots ran in 1:50 in 1963. No way can Came Home win the Kentucky Derby at 11/4 miles on May 4, they say.

John Toffan, for one, could do well to find out what makes Came Home tick and give it to all his horses.

“They talk about slow times,” said Toffan, who made his money in oil and gold mining before concentrating on thoroughbreds in the late 1980s. “Maybe the track was off a little bit, and I don’t know that he got the greatest trip in the world. He seemed to be boxed in most of the way around, but he doesn’t care. He’s a perfect (Kentucky) ­­Derby horse because he’s got plenty of speed and he can get position. We just hope everything goes our way.”

Toffan and his partner, Trudy McCaffery, have been through the Kentucky Derby ordeal in the past. Their Mane Minister was third in all three Triple Crown races in 1991, and Free House ran three-two-three in the 1997 series.

  “I think he’s more mature than Free House,” Toffan said of Came Home. “He was like that as a 2-year-old. Free House took a while to settle down. He’d come running down the stretch and ducking one way or the other way, but Came Home doesn’t do that. I think he can do well going a mile and a quarter because he’s learned to relax.”

Sure, he has a vested interest, but unless he was putting on a spin of confidence for public display about Came Home’s Derby prospects, jockey Chris McCarron thinks the colt is the real deal.

“Chris seems very confident about Came Home being able to win at a mile and a quarter, but what he likes is he can get the horse to relax,” Toffan said. “He’s running off the bridle and to me, it almost looks like he’s learned that he doesn’t have to start running until he turns for home. That’s the way he ran in the Santa Anita Derby. I was a little concerned (at the three-eighths pole in the Santa Anita Derby, when it appeared briefly that Came Home was dropping back), but he had lots left.”

If Came Home’s Santa Anita Derby win failed to impress critics, they should consider that this Rodney Dangerfield of Derby contenders won the race on a malevolent training schedule.

“He’ll be a lot tighter for the (Kentucky) Derby, because he wasn’t 100 percent fit for the Santa Anita Derby,” Toffan said. “We missed about two weeks with the horse. We didn’t take a lot out of him when he did work, so he probably wasn’t as tight as Paco would have liked him. But the Santa Anita Derby will have him tighter (for Kentucky).”

Also in his favor is the fact that Came Home’s connections have been down the Derby road before.

“We’re not going to train in Kentucky to see who has the fastest horse on the worktab,” Toffan said. “They seem to have a race going on where one trainer works his horse in 1:12, so the next guy figures he better work in 1:11. That happens every year.”

Outside of Came Home, the 3-year-old that has caught Toffan’s fancy is Harlan’s Holiday, who won the Blue Grass Stakes in convincing fashion, although he did it in trotting-horse time (1:512/5 for 11/8 miles, the sixth-slowest time in 78 runnings) and against suspect ­­rivals. Thus, Harlan’s Holiday has inherited the unenviable role of favorite in the Run for the Roses. Only one favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979 has won the Derby. That was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

“Whatever they say about Harlan’s Holiday, to me he was impressive winning the Florida Derby, whether there was a speed duel in front or not,” Toffan said. “He was the only one of that bunch that closed. The rest of them couldn’t get there.”

Toffan’s answer was quick and succinct when asked what it would be like to win the Kentucky Derby.

“That’s why you’re in the business,” he said. “That is the race you want to win. It’s the race everybody wants to win.”