Mula Gula delights owner in near miss
By Dick Rockne, Seattle Times, May 7, 2000
AUBURN - The Mula Gula phenomenon, heretofore a West Coast tale of financial fortune, took on national significance yesterday when Steven Gula's bargain-basement colt just missed winning the $150,000-added Winnercomm Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Mike Smith, Mula Gula, the longest shot in a field of seven, battled the eventual winner, Straight Man, through a stretch-long drag race. Straight Man, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Jorge Chavez, completed the seven furlongs in 1:21 2/5, which is one-fifth off the record at the Louisville track.
The winner's official margin was a head; unofficially, it looked like Straight Man had the advantage of the last head bob at the finish.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Gula by telephone from Louisville, where the Mercer Island aviation-fuel distributor was the host of a Kentucky Derby Day party of 16 in a track box.
"We thought he had won," said Ben Gula, Steven's father, who watched the race simulcast with his wife, Bea, and others from a Turf Club table at Emerald Downs, where Mula Gula got his racing start as a 2-year-old in 1998.
Since then, Mula Gula, purchased as a Kentucky-bred yearling for $6,000, has won $434,070, including the runner-up share of $33,840 from the Winnercomm purse. His record is 6-3-2 from 15 starts.
"Can you believe it?" Steven Gula said. "Another step and I believe we would have won the race."
In keeping with Gula's amazement about his good fortune with the first Thoroughbred he ever owned, he didn't realize how well Mula Gula was doing until the last furlong. He said Dana Halvorson, the Enumclaw-based bloodstock agent who recommended the purchase of Mula Gula, told him in midrace that their horse was on the outside.
"All of a sudden as the horses approached the finish everybody around me is pounding me on the back and yelling, `Your horse is first . . . your horse is first,' " Gula said.
And maybe, for a jump or two inside the final 16th of a mile, it was.
While a win would have been remarkable, Gula is satisfied with the outcome of a race - the first of the year for Mula Gula - that was to be nothing more than a tuneup for bigger things ahead.
Next up, Gula said, is the $250,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (Grade I) on June 18 at Hollywood Park. He has mentioned the Longacres Mile on Aug. 20 at Emerald Downs as a possibility. The long-term goal is to return to Churchill Downs in November for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Meanwhile, Ben and Bea Gula are enjoying the success their son is having with Mula Gula. Ben, who owned racehorses until he retired, recalled being with Steve at Emerald Downs when his son told him he was going to buy a horse.
"I said, `Are you crazy?' " Ben said. Crazy, indeed.
"I have three children," Bea said. "Mula Gula is like a fourth child."