Proud Truth comes into today's San Fernando Stakes with a lofty reputation and career earnings of $1,944,327, but the betting favorite of the Santa Anita crowd is likely to be a colt whose U.S. earnings total $24,750.
His name is Will Dancer, and he appears to be the latest in a long line of imports that trainer Charlie Whittingham will turn into an American star.
Bred in France, Will Dancer raced for two seasons in Italy and was the champion 2-year-old of that country. He had not competed on the dirt until Whittingham entered him in an allowance race here two weeks ago.
Will Dancer came out of the gate slowly, and spotted the field about 15 lengths -- an insuperable disadvantage on this speed-favoring track. But he accelerated powerfully, weaved his way through traffic in the stretch and won impressively.
Of course, Will Dancer wasn't beating anybody remotely in the class of Proud Truth, the winner of the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic and the second-ranked 3-year-old in the United States last season. Yet despite Will Dancer's lack of established class, Santa Anita regulars know that he will have some edges in the 1 1/8-mile San Fernando -- while Proud Truth will have to overcome some difficult obstacles.
Plodders such as Proud Truth rarely win in California; speed is essential here. Gate Dancer, who finished a neck behind Proud Truth in the Breeders' Cup, came to Hollywood Park last month and finished dead last in a minor stake.
At Santa Anita for the last two weeks, speed has been more important than ever. Front-runners on the rail have dominated the races here for the last two weeks; even track officials acknowledge that the racing surface seems unfair and fret that they don't know how to change it.
Will Dancer breaks from post No. 3 with two slow horses to the inside; if he comes out of the gate cleanly, he will benefit from what is dubbed the "jet stream" on the rail. Proud Truth starts from the outside post, No. 10, and probably will be forced to race wide most of the way.
The only other serious contender in the San Fernando is Fast Account, the fourth-place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. He returned to action with a solid victory in a recent sprint here. Others in the field are Schillder, Nostalgia's Star, Right Con, First Norman, Floating Reserve, Encolure and Lucky N Green.