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BIG 'CAP LOSES CHARM; DERBY WINNER SIDELINED BY BRUISED FOOT.

Byline: Kevin Modesti Daily News Staff Writer

Happy birthday, Gary. ``Thank you,'' Gary Stevens said softly through gritted teeth.

No. 35, on Friday, was one the Hall of Fame jockey will try to forget. Late in the morning, he got the news that Silver Charm, the colt he so painstakingly chose to ride in the Santa Anita Handicap, was scratched from today's race because of a bruised right foot.

The stunning announcement left Gentlemen - the horse Stevens abandoned to fellow Hall of Famer Pat Day - a heavy, heavy favorite to beat three horses in the $1 million race, and left Santa Anita without its once-in-a-decade matchup.

Sometimes, the birthday candles go out before you can make the wish.

``You have to live and die with your choice,'' said Stevens, clearly upset by the withdrawal of Silver Charm, the 1997 Kentucky Derby winner and 3-year-old champion, and a 4-5 favorite on the original Big 'Cap morning line. ``It's a part of the game.''

The good news is that Silver Charm's injury is relatively minor. The popular gray colt should heal in a few days. In fact, a similar injury to his other forefoot appeared last weekend, after Silver Charm was reshod, but it was sound enough for him to work out Tuesday morning.

The bruise on the sensitive part of the right foot known as the ``quarter'' wasn't evident until Friday, said Vince Baker, veterinarian for trainer Bob Baffert's horses.

Silver Charm went out for a 1-1/2-mile gallop about 9 a.m. and ``wasn't himself,'' said Suzanne Frank, an assistant trainer who was watching. Exercise rider Larry Damore told Baffert the horse wasn't striding properly.

Stevens, astride another horse nearby, saw Silver Charm on the track and could tell ``he wasn't traveling as he normally does.''

The bruise was discovered when Silver Charm returned to the barn. Baker had him jog on pavement, where discomfort would be most evident. When Baker applied a pliers-like device called a hoof tester, Silver Charm recoiled.

In his stall later, Silver Charm stood in hot water with Epsom salts and was to be treated with a medicated poultice.

``It's nothing that's going to affect his skeleton or his career,'' Baker said.

But letting Silver Charm run in today's 1-1/4-mile race would have been risky, Baker said. In favoring the injured foot, he might hurt something else.

Stakes horses may be scratched up to an hour before the race. But Baffert said owner Bob Lewis made the decision to scratch Silver Charm Friday instead of hoping for a miracle.

Foot problems are common, especially during the winter months. Moisture causes horses' hooves to expand, making them vulnerable to bruises and bacteria. Running surfaces are harder than usual because maintenance crews pack down the tracks, trying to keep rain from soaking in.

Asked if the injury could have happened in Tuesday's 5-furlong workout, Baffert said he suspects the bruise had been ``brewing.''

Amid the general disappointment at Santa Anita Friday, Stevens' stood out.

The regular jockey for both 4-year-old Silver Charm and 6-year-old Gentlemen, he took 2-1/2 weeks to choose which to ride in their showdown. Although most handicappers were picking Gentlemen, Stevens went for the younger horse with the more active owners and more sentimental attachment, because of Silver Charm's near-Triple Crown.

When Stevens jumped, Gentlemen's trainer, Richard Mandella, announced that Day would fly in from Florida for the Big 'Cap. Now, unless Day falls off, he should easily earn the winning jockey's $60,000 share of the purse.

Last year, Gentlemen won three Grade I races against older horses. His opponents today - Malek, Don't Blame Rio and Bagshot - have never run in races of that caliber.

``I am probably more disappointed than everybody else, but not a lot more,'' Stevens said. ``It's a blow to racing.''

Silver Charm could have been compared to Lucky Debonair, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and Alysheba - Kentucky Derby winners who won the Big 'Cap. Instead he's being compared to Holy Bull and Cigar - horses remembered, along with their racetrack accomplishments, for missing much-anticipated 1995 and '96 Big 'Caps with injuries.

``This is racing,'' said Santa Anita president Cliff Goodrich, who had hoped for a crowd of 40,000 but estimated the injury would reduce that by 5,000 to 10,000. ``Thank God it's minor (the injury), and for the good of racing, hopefully these two horses will meet in the future.

``It's still the Santa Anita Handicap. We're going to see one of the greatest horses in the world. Even if he is going to be 1-9.''

SANTA ANITA HANDICAP AT A GLANCE

Where: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia.

When: 4:17 p.m. today, eighth race on a 10-race card starting at noon. Gates and betting windows open at 9 a.m.

TV: ``Live on tape'' coverage on Fox Sports West's ``Santa Anita Today'' starts at 5:30 p.m.

Purse: $1 million, $600,000 to the winner.

Favorite: Gentlemen's morning line odds were sliced to 1-9 after Silver Charm was withdrawn because of a foot bruise.

THE LINEUP

PP Horse Weight Jockey Odds

1 Malek 115 Alex Solis 8-1

2 Gentlemen 125 Pat Day 1-9

3 Don't Blame Rio 110 Kent Desormeaux 20-1

4 Bagshot112 Corey Nakatani 10-1

CAPTION(S):

Photo, 2 Boxes

PHOTO (Color) Injured Silver Charm apparently didn't lose any sleep Friday over his withdrawal from today's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Benoit Photo / Special to the Daily News

BOX: (1) SANTA ANITA HANDICAP AT A GLANCE (see text)

(2) THE LINEUP (see text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 7, 1998
Words:920
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