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Smith's field play leads to big things

By BERNIE DICKMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


In the arena of buying and selling thoroughbred race horses, Murray Smith has a distinctive position. She discovers outstanding horseflesh where others in her field have rarely ventured -- in the fields of Florida and Kentucky.

Several years ago in Ocala, Smith indulged in one of her favorite pastimes -- jumping a fence to take a closer look at a horse -- and found a filly she liked. She took off for the farm office and inquired if the filly was for sale, and a little while and $5,000 later, the filly was on a van headed for Smith's farm down the road. When Smith couldn't sell her, she raced the filly in her colors, and the filly became a multiple stakes winner, earning nearly $300,000 before beginning a career in the breeding shed.

Not long after, Smith jumped a fence at the Horse Research Center in Zuber, near Ocala, to inspect a chestnut colt she thought had possibilities. She bought him for $2,000; named him Toro Rojo; raced him once, at Churchill Downs (he finished second), and sold him a few days later for $35,000. Toro Rojo subsequently became stakes-placed and earned more than $100,000 for his new owners.

By then, a friend had nicknamed the horses resulting from Smith's fence-jumping escapades BOOFs, "bought out of field."

Two years ago, Smith was at it again, this time in Lexington, Ky. She saw a yearling in a field at Two-Bux Farm and wound up buying the colt by champion Maria's Mon. When she had him looking good -- another of her strong suits -- Smith entered the colt in the August yearling sale at Saratoga, one of the most prestigious auctions in the country.

"I couldn't get a bid on him," Smith said. "I brought him home for $70,000 or $75,000."

In February, Smith tried for a second time, putting the colt in the Fasig-Tipton sale at Calder Race Course. This time she got him sold for $170,000 to John Ward Jr., trainer for John Oxley, a longtime patron of the sport. The colt began slowly in his first two career starts for Oxley and Ward, then came into hand by winning successive races in impressive fashion at Gulfstream Park. Saturday, Monarchos, the colt Smith bought out of a field in Lexington, captured the $1-million Florida Derby and the $600,000 prize that goes with it.

Oxley and Ward are ready to make a serious run at the Kentucky Derby. A CLAIMING TIGER: Around the golfing world, Rae's Creek is known as a notorious body of water that runs through Augusta National, matter-of-factly swallowing balls hit by the world's most famous players in the Masters every April. At Tampa Bay Downs, Rae's Creek is the cheap claiming horse who has run his heart out since his first start at the meeting.

When the 5-year-old son of Skip Trial won by five lengths Jan. 20, he was claimed away from owner David Larson for $4,000 by Chris Gatis and his trainer, William Mitchell. Ten days later, Gatis and Mitchell saw their horse win by 11/2 lengths but lost him for $4,000 to owner/trainer Carl Cooper. Feb. 9, Cooper saddled Rae's Creek for the first time. The horse lost by a nose, and Cooper lost him for $5,000 to, you guessed it, Gatis and Mitchell.

Gatis and Mitchell snuck by for two races owning Rae's Creek, who finished a smart second both times running for a claiming tag of $6,250. They moved him up to $8,000 Saturday, and Rae's Creek was more than up to the task, winning with a strong stretch run by more than 10 lengths. Gatis and Mitchell lost him to Canadian trainer Layne Giliforte. Rae's Creek has posted three victories and three seconds in six starts at the meeting, but because of the lower levels at which he has competed, his lifetime earnings are less than $45,000 despite a record of 6-11-4 in 29 starts.

FAIR GROUNDS: Fifty Stars entered the Kentucky Derby picture with an upset victory Sunday in the Louisiana Derby. The runner-up was Millennium Wind, the third betting favorite who hadn't raced since winning the Santa Catalina on Jan. 21 at Santa Anita. Third was Hero's Tribute, the second favorite, and fourth was favored Dollar Bill.

Trainer David Hofmans said Millennium Wind will return to California. He did not say what the colt's final Kentucky Derby prep would be.

Trainer John Ward said Hero's Tribute will start in the Blue Grass on April 14 at Keeneland. Dollar Bill also is expected to start in the Blue Grass.

A power outage caused by a storm at the Autotote hub in Houston cost the track about $900,000 in handle on the Derby, said Byron G. Krantz, track president and general manager.

GULFSTREAM PARK: John R. Velazquez rode three winners and moved from fourth to second in the jockey standings. He has won 50 races but has no chance to catch Jorge Chavez, who has 77 winners with five days remaining in the meeting. Velazquez won the Grade 2 $250,000 Pan American on Whata Brainstorm, the first race on Blushing Sword and the fourth with Left Bank.

SANTA ANITA: Blueprint, ridden by Gary Stevens, returned from a six-monthlayoff to beat Devon Deputy by a head in the $250,000 San Luis Rey Handicap. Irish-bred Blueprint won for the first time in four U.S. starts for trainer Bob Hess Jr.

AQUEDUCT: Stewards suspended jockey Javier Castellano for 10 days for careless riding. His mount, Weekend Honor, finished last in the field of seven in the fourth race. The suspension ends March 21.

DERBY LANE: BD's Phillip ran second to Hollywood's champion, Kiowa Shawnee So, in the 26th annual $75,000 Hollywood World Classic. BD's Phillip got off slow but drove from sixth. The son of Oshkosh Racey is back at Derby Lane and expected to begin competition this week. Iowa's Abita Sasquatch finished third, followed by Oregon champion Kansas Gangster. ... Courageous Nicky, who held the season's best sprint time, entered his first distance race Saturday to prepare for the $100,000 Distance Classic beginning March 24. Nicky won Race 6 against last year's distance finalist Kiowa WW Hurby. Derby winner Boot Scootin Gal won her heat against fierce distance runners Flying Waterford, Greys Free Bird and Last Warrior. ... American Swift, 61/2, has been competing in the Tampa Bay area since 1997. He is scheduled to compete in Race 7 on Tuesday night. American Swift had his best year in 1997, when he finished as the No. 2 greyhound to Rural Rube winner Scott Free. At Tampa he was the wins leader. American Swift has run 320 official races, finishing in the money 62 percent of the time. "Although he wants to continue his racing career, I am going to have to force him into retirement," trainer Jeanne Lesperance said. "He will be leaving for Kansas soon and become a sire on the Strickland farm."

- Information from correspondent and Times wires was used in this report.

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