Gula in the Mula at Bay Meadows
Owner's first horse scores easy victory in Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Derby
By Chuck Dybdal, Thoroughbred Times, October 2, 1999
SEATTLE horseman Steven Gula has made a lot of money by ignoring conventional wisdom.
And he earned another $82,500 more or less the same way on September 25 when his Mula Gula, racing at least three wide every step of the way, captured the $138,750 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Derby (G3) by a length over late-charging Miss Chryss (Ire).
Mula Gula, who went off at 9.20-to-1, won the turf race of about 1 1/4 miles in 1:45.34. His fourth victory in 12 starts lifted his earnings to $250,000, about $200,000 less than Gula was offered for the three-year-old colt on August 14.
"The person who made the offer had already had a certified check cut," said Gula, an aviation fuel distributor. "I asked 56 people, and 55 said take the money, but I've always gone against the grain, and it's proved to be pretty lucky."
Gula ran his colt as a two-year-old at Emerald Downs near Seattle. After placing third in a pair of maiden races, Mula Gula captured the WTBA Lads Stakes for his maiden victory. He then ran a troubled second in the Gottstein Futurity.
"I talked to Jim Plemmons, who bred Mula Gula, after the Lads because I knew we had a horse," said Gula. "He said to get out of Seattle and come to California."
Plemmons suggested Gula contact trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "He told me if the horse was any good, the trainer would let me know. I sent him down this spring, but there was a lot of opposition to it at Emerald. There were a lot of people booing when I put him on the van."
Hollendorfer, Northern California's dominant trainer, said he liked Mula Gula from the start.
"He's just a real solid horse. I like route horses who can also win sprinting," said Hollendorfer, who had to rush the colt a bit to get him ready for the California Derby on May 29 at Golden Gate Fields where he finished second to Red Sky's.
Mula Gula finished fourth behind General Challenge in the Affirmed Handicap (G3) at Hollywood Park on June 26, and then won a division of the Oceanside Stakes on the turf on Del Mar's opening day, July 22. In his last start, Mula Gula was fourth in the La Jolla Handicap (G3) at Del Mar on August 15.
A son of 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee out of the Ascot Knight mare Night Tan, Mula Gula has no apparent turf breeding, but two of his three stakes wins have come on the grass. Mula Gula, a $6,000 weanling purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky mixed sale in November 1996, was much the best in the Derby against a talented field of ten.
The field in the Breeders' Cup Derby was so strong that Incitatus, the longest shot on the board (93.20-to-1), had a $100,000 turf stakes victory to his credit.
Mula Gula's stablemate Final Connection, one of three colts in the race from Hollendorfer's barn, set the pace before running out of gas after a half-mile.
"We didn't want to be in front," Final Connection's rider Russell Baze said. "He wouldn't relax and just ran himself into the ground." The beneficiary of Final Connection's ill-fated early run was Red Sky's, who was expected to set the pace.
"We were going awfully easy," Red Sky's rider, Dennis Carr, said. "I was content to track the other horse."
The pace was not particularly fast: :23.45, :47.34, 1:11.50. Red Sky's seemed strong, but when Mula Gula headed him in the lane, he offered little resistance, fading to fifth.
But the way Mula Gula finished, everyone else as running for second.
"I could have asked for a better trip," winning jockey Rafael Meza said. "He ran good, even though we were a little bit wide. I had so much horse, I just wanted to let him settle."
Mula Gula, breaking from the outside number ten post, was a little rank early as Meza tried to get him in to save ground. "He was going to run over horses so I just stayed wide," Meza said. "He could have taken the lead at any time.
"I must have had the best horse. He cirlced the field and stayed wider all the way around. He was just playing around."
Mula Gula will be pointed to the Oak Tree Derby (G2) and Hollywood Derby (G1) before the Strub Series to start his four-year-old season. Runner-up Miss Chryss, the only filly in the field, was knocked sideways heading into the lane.
"It took three, four, or five strides to get her going, and she finished very strong," her rider, Victor Espinoza, said.
Fighting Falcon, the 11-to-10 favorite with Corey Nakatani aboard, placed third by 2 1/2 lengths after clipping heels at the start and again heading into the lane.
Gula said when his father, Ben, got into racing 23 years ago, he named his first horse after himself. Gula said he vowed to to the same if he got into racing.
"I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps," he said. When he purchased Mula Gula, Gula said, "I wanted to keep the family name, and I thought, 'What do you go to the track for? Money. I named him Mula Gula because mula (moola) means money, and it rhymes and is catchy. I guess you can say today, Gula is in the mula."