They don’t call Nick Hines "The Sarge" for nothing.
It’s safe to say the burly trainer, who turns 33 on June 21, is the most patriotic guy in racing. His red, white and blue silks, depicting Old Glory, have been carried by many of his thoroughbreds. If that isn’t enough to express his loyalty, at Santa Anita last week, this son of a Marine was wearing a red, white and blue neck tie that was a replica of the Stars and Stripes.
With the United States and coalition forces in the early stages of what some expect to be a quick war with Iraq, Hines wasn’t so sure, although his philosophy is strictly Pattonesque. He says our strategy should be wham, bam, thank you, Saddam.
"The priority should be to finish them off (fast)," said Hines, who was born in Las Vegas on Fathers’ Day, June 21, 1970. His father, Mike, was a lieutenant colonel in the Marines and an All-American football player at Notre Dame. Mike’s tour of duty in World War II included the ash-laden island of Iwo Jima, where Marines raised Old Glory in costly victory on Mt. Suribachi. Nick’s uncle, Jim (Mike’s brother), was a doctor in the Army, where he was awarded the Purple Heart. So it’s little wonder the 6-5, 270-pound Hines has red-blooded patriotism running through his veins.
"Don’t give them a chance to stay in the race," Hines said. "In any kind of battle, whether it’s a fight, a football game, a basketball game or a war, anytime you keep the underdog in the game for four quarters, you give them a chance of beating you.
"The way it’s going, I think it’s going to be a 20-year war. Once they think the war is over, there are other martyrs waiting in the wings. Their leaders have already talked about getting another head.
"The bottom line is, I don’t think we should have gone in with the mentality of, ”˜Give a little, take a little.’ The other day at a check point, a guy posed as a civilian, and when the Marines went to examine his automobile, he detonated a bomb and killed five soldiers.
"My whole point is, if we’re going to go to war, let’s fight. We’re sending more troops over now and I think we totally underestimated what they’re capable of."
HOMESTRETCH: Bobby Frankel, sitting in the Kentucky Derby catbird seat with Empire Maker and Peace Rules, won’t lose any sleep over Buddy Gil’s victory in the Santa Anita Derby. The Eastern Echo gelding won his third straight race, but covered 11/8 miles in a moderate 1:49.36, nearly four seconds off the track record. Atswhatimtalknbout, the 3-2 favorite, lacked the needed late kick and struggled home fourth, beaten 3Â½ lengths. Buddy Gil is all heart, but he has a major minus going for him in the Run for the Roses: no gelding has won since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, and no horse won the Derby that didn’t race as a 2-year-old (Atshwhatimtalknbout) since Apollo in 1882.
Man Among Men rebounded from his disappointing seventh in the San Felipe and is set for a top effort in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. "His last work (1:11.40 at Hollywood Park last Monday) might be the best he’s had on dirt yet," 31-year-old trainer Gary Mandella said of the son of Gentlemen, who defeated Kentucky Derby Empire Maker in the Sham Stakes. "We hope to accumulate enough money in Arkansas to reach the Kentucky Derby. His dapples are back and he looks like he’s 100 percent. He’s happy." So is jockey Alex Solis, who rides him again in the Arkansas Derby. "He hasn’t given up on him yet," Mandella said.
For the first time in her brilliant career, Azeri had to lay her body down to win, and she did so to capture the Apple Blossom Handicap by a gallant head in her first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last Oct. 26. Take Charge Lady appeared to have the race won in deep stretch, but jockey Mike Smith and Azeri never gave up and got up in the final strides. Azeri’s detractors in last year’s Horse of the Year voting doubtless had "I told you so’s" poised on their lips until she displayed the heart of champion and flat-out would not be beaten.