Thoroughbred Times

October 30, 1999

More Mula for Gula in Oak Tree Derby


Mula Gula, a $6,000 sale purchase, continues to reap rewards for first-time owner Steven Gula

By Steve Schuelein, Thoroughbred Times, October 30, 1999


STEVEN GULA wore a sheepish expression as he left the Santa Anita Park winner’s circle on October 23 and said to a battery of reporters, “This is my very first horse. I’m just learning the business. What do you want for $6,000?”

Another chapter in the improbable story of the reluctant owner and the willing horse had been written after Mula Gula scored his most important victory to date in the $250,000 Oak Tree Derby (G2), cover 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:46.67 on a hot and sunny afternoon.

“I’m on cloud nine, maybe cloud ten,” said Gula, an aviation fuel distributor from Seattle, after the three-year-old Lil E. Tee colt had continued his ascent up the ladder with his third victory in four starts since being transferred to the grass in July.

“I flew 20 people down here today,” continued Gula. “I kept telling them in the Directors’ Room, I hope we’re not embarrassed. There were so many good stakes horses in here. I would have been happy to be fourth.”

Ridden for the first time by Gary Stevens, Mula Gula stalked the pace in third before challenging around the far turn, taking the lead in mid-stretch, and drawing off to a 1 1/4-length victory as the 3-to-1 second choice.

Eagleton finished second in a three-horse photo finish over fast-closing Super Quercus (Fr), who was a neck back, and French invader Manndar (Ire), another head back.

Fighting Falcon, who set the pace until the stretch, faded to fifth, followed in order by 2.50-to-1 favorite Prime Timber, Good Fellow Robin, Rhapsodist, and Outstanding Hero.

Gula repeated the story of his unlikely entry into ownership and striking gold in his first try with a bargain colt. “I was reluctant to get into the business because, frankly, I never knew anybody who made any money,” said Gula, a racing fan for many years in Washington state.

He finally yielded for what he considered a token fee. “Dana Halvorson, a bloodstock agent who knew my father, said he was going to a sale in Kentucky in 1996,” recalled Gula. “I gave him a $25,000 budget for the Fasig-Tipton (November mixed) sale.

“A few days later, he called me back and said, “You’ve got a new son.” I asked him how much he spent, and he said, “$6,000 for a weanling.'” The Oak Tree Derby victory, Mula Gula’s fifth in 13 starts, raised his earnings to $400,230.

The Kentucky-bred colt, out of the Ascot Knight mare Night Tan, should provide hope for any newcomer contemplating entry into ownership with limited funds. “After we bought him, I brought him out to a woman in Enumclaw for seven months,” said Gula.

Mula Gula began his career as a two-year-old at Emerald Downs and capped a promising season with a second-place finish in the Gottstein Futurity for trainer Steve Bullock. He was transferred to Jerry Hollendorfer in Northern California last winer and finished second in the California Derby in May before reaching new heights on the turf with victories in a division of the restricted Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar and the Bay Meadows Breeders’ Cup Derby (G3).

“When Gary got off the horse, he looked into my eyes and told me this was a Breeders’ Cup horse,” said Gula. “That made my heart beat even faster.”

Hollendorfer, however, suggested a more cautious course and indicated the Breeders’ Cup would be asking too much too soon. “We really don’t have a plan, but I don’t think you’ll see him in the Breeders’ Cup,” said Hollendorfer, who will weigh the $500,000 Hollywood Derby (G1) on November 27 among his options.

“He reminds me an awful lot of Ladies Din,” said Stevens of the multiple stakes winner aboard whom he won the Oak Tree Derby last year. “He is still green and looking around and does things so easily that he just loses focus.”

Runners-up Eagleton, Super Quercus, and Manndar all probably will return in the Hollywood Derby.

Super Quercus, a European import making his first start in 11 months, closed like a shot from ninth, bringing a smile to the face of trainer Bobby Frankel. “He should win the Hollywood Derby anyway,” said Frankel to Alex Solis as the jockey dismounted. Super Quercus, a listed stakes winner in France last year, recently was sold to Charles Kenis’s and Audrey Skirball’s Three Plus U Stable.

Manndar, who finished third in the Prix Eugene Adam (Fr-G2) and Prix du Prince d’Orange (Fr-G3) in his previous two starts, arrived in C. Beau Greely’s barn four days before the race after being purchased from the Aga Khan for Andrea Pollack’s Columbine Stable, Merrick Jones, and Tom Nichols. “I thought he would show more speed; he just doesn’t know the American style yet,” said Greely, otherwise pleased with Manndar’s effort.

Darley Stud Management’s Rhapsodist, another European horse with encouraging form after a third-place finish in the Prix la Rochette (Fr-G3) on September 22 at Chantilly, never threatened and finished eighth. Trained by John Gosden, the colt will remain in California and be transferred to Neil Drysdale.

Val Royal (Fr), who would have been one of the favorites in the Oak Tree Derby after winning the Del Mar Derby (G2) in his United States debut on September 6, suffered a torn tendon in his right foreleg prepping for the race and will be out indefinitely, according to trainer Julio Canani.