Golfer honored on different turf

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ARCADIA, Calif. --- Globe-trotting golf legend Gary Player has the horse racing bug.

"It's a disease with me," he said Thursday at Santa Anita, where he visited a number of horses running this weekend in the Breeders' Cup.

It is a malady to which he has happily succumbed.

Player built a 20,000-acre breeding farm in his native South Africa, thoroughly immersing himself in the study of pedigrees and the production of race horses.

"The conclusion you come to after all the studying is that you know a heck of a lot about nothing," he said. "Horses are a lot like golf. They will both humble you. You have to have quality and you have to work hard."

Player, who is in the midst of a trip that will take him to 12 countries in 31 days, was presented the first Breeders' Cup Sports and Racing Excellence Award.

The award honors "an individual who has established a career of excellence in a chosen profession and also maintains a passionate interest as an owner, breeder or participant in the thoroughbred racing industry."

Player touched on the most sensitive subject of this Breeders' Cup: the absence of superstar 3-year-olds Rachel Alexandra and Sea The Stars .

Owner Jess Jackson would not let Rachel Alexandra, the filly who beat the boys in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward, compete on Santa Anita's synthetic surface.

Sea The Stars, the brilliant turf runner in Europe, was recently retired to stud.

Player made an impassioned plea to owners to embrace, rather than avoid, the championship showdowns.

"I'm very disappointed to see Rachel Alexandra not run," he said.

"In my humble opinion, he should have raced her. We need to see Sea The Stars here," Player said. "It wouldn't have made any difference to his breeding program if he got beat here. We take horses out of training too quickly. He should be here."

FLYING THE COOP: Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is headed for a well-earned vacation after the $5 million BC Classic on Saturday.

It's been a long, hard journey that started in New Mexico in the winter, shifted to Churchill Downs for the 50-1 shocker in the Derby and will conclude with the richest race in North America.

Trainer Chip Woolley Jr. is hoping for one more peak effort, especially after supplementing Mine That Bird to the Breeders' Cup for $150,000.

"That wasn't a choice made lightly," he said.

Mine That Bird, 12-1 on the morning line, will get a 45- to 60-day rest after the race.

"He's probably the most traveled horse in the country and he definitely needs a break," Woolley said.

"We'll possibly look at something at Oaklawn Park early in the year and set up a schedule aiming for the good races at a mile-and-a-quarter."

This will be Mine That Bird's second consecutive race at Santa Anita, following a sixth-place effort in the Goodwood Stakes last month.

Like his horse, Woolley is ready for the wide-open spaces of New Mexico.

"I love Santa Anita," he said. "I'm not so big on L.A. Santa Anita is a beautiful place to come train every morning. I'm more country. This is a little bit overcrowded for me once you leave the stable gate."

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