Hilvers, Johnston, Johnston, et al’s Acclamation emerged from his Friday workout “fine,” according to trainer Don Warren and will enter Saturday’s Grade I, $250,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at 1 1-4 miles on turf. The 6-year-old will be going for his third straight Whittingham victory.
“He jogged great the last couple of mornings,” said Warren, who returned to his barn six days ago following hospitalization for a serious septic infection. “It looks like he’s out of the woods.”
Acclamation, last year’s champion older male, had his training interrupted briefly on two occasions when he took a couple of awkward steps. After extensive testing, no physical problem was found and the California-bred son of Unusual Heat quickly resumed his morning activities. He worked a mile on Cushion Track in 1:38 2/5 May 25th and the same distance a week later in :1:41 1/5 breezing. Pat Valenzuela was aboard for both drills and is expected to ride in the Whittingham. Warren said Valenzuela, who has missed some time due to weight issues, arrived early for the work and “looked great.”
Three prominent Betfair Hollywood Park trainers – Mike Mitchell, Eoin Harty and John Shirreffs – are participants during the Spring/Summer meet in Darley Flying Start, an international intern program for the racing industry.
Started nine years ago by Sheikh Mohmmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Flying Start selects 12 applicants each year to partake in the two-year program. Aspirants are selected from a worldwide pool of ambitious young adults in their mid-to-late 20‘s.
Two of the 12 have been assigned to trainers at Betfair Hollywood Park and are scheduled to stay for one month. Jack Davison is working with Eoin Harty while Tony Tian is learning under John Shirreffs. Both students are staying in the home of Mitchell and his wife, Denise.
Game On Dude, a multiple Grade I winner and narrow loser to stablemate First Dude in last year’s Hollywood Gold Cup, sped seven furlongs Sunday morning at Santa Anita in 1:24 and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is considering the Awesome Again gelding for Saturday’s $150,000 Californian Stakes at 1 1-8 miles on Cushion Track.
Baffert also nominated Prayer for Relief and Richard’s Kid to the Grade II event, but their status is undetermined.
According to track clockers, Game On Dude went the first five furlongs in 1:00 and the last quarter in mile in 24 seconds. He galloped out a mile in 1:37 while in company with 2011 Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude. The drill was the fifth for Game On Dude since he finished 12th of 13 in the $10,000,000 Dubai World Cup March 31st.
A leading trainer multiple times in Southern California, Doug O’Neill is no stranger to media coverage.
His outgoing personality is a big reason why O’Neill, who celebrated his 44th birthday Thursday, is able to handle the increased intensity as I’ll Have Another goes for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes June 9th.
“I’m having the time of my life,” said the personable trainer. “We have an unbelievable race horse, we have an unbelievable team and we have an unbelievable jockey. It’s been an incredible run and we want to keep going. It’s all good.”
Mario Gutierrez’s fairytale journey that has carried him to within one victory of the Triple Crown almost never happened. The 25-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico, who rode regularly at Hastings Park from 2006 -2011, was so homesick for Vancouver, British Columbia that he nearly left California despite having just won the Santa Anita Derby aboard I’ll Have Another.
When Troy Taylor, one of Hastings’ top trainers, brought a string down to Southern California last year, Gutierrez came along to ride first call. Though Taylor left a few horses behind, the trainer pulled up stakes in April and was heading back to his base for opening day at Hastings when the rider asked to join him.
Matt Jukich, Hastings intertrack television host who was on a busman’s holiday Friday at Betfair Hollywood Park, picks up the story. “He wanted to jump in the car with Troy,” said Jukich. “It was (prominent Canadian owner and longtime Gutierrez supporter) Glen Todd who convinced Gutierrez to stay and stick it out.
Peter Miller got out of the gate quickly at Betfair Hollywood Park. The 45-year-old conditioner started 16 horses in the first 12 days and recorded five wins, one second and one third, placing him second in the standings behind Bob Baffert. The trainer hopes to keep up the momentum with several of his stable stars returning in upcoming weeks.
Arguably the best horse in Miller’s barn is Reneesgotzip, winner of the Grade II Santa Ynez and beaten a nose in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks last winter. The City Zip filly is 2-for-2 on Cushion Track, including an impressive allowance score May 4th. “She’s doing great,” said the trainer Thursday morning. “She’s leaving here on May 25th to run in the (Grade I) Acorn (May 28th at Belmont Park). Garrett Gomez will ride.”
Majestic City, 3-for-3 sprinting at Betfair Hollywood Park, including a victory in last July’s Hollywood Juvenile Championship, is getting close to a return. Also an offspring of City Zip, Majestic City has been idle since finishing 10th in the Grade I CashCall Futurity last Dec. 17.
When Mario Gutierrez got back to work Friday night at Betfair Hollywood Park, six days after piloting I’ll Have Another to an emotional victory in the Kentucky Derby, it was a familiar face who gave him a leg up.
Though Gutierrez was well known in Canada, it was Vladimir Cerin who helped put the 25-year-old jockey on the map in Southern California. Gutierrez rode 13 winners during the Santa Anita meeting and five of those were for Cerin. The five winners came from only 14 mounts and several produced large payoffs, including Sunland Vintage ($56.20), Bet On Victor ($42.60) and Takethemoneyandrun ($19.40).
“He’s such a great kid,” said a prideful Cerin. “So humble. When he won the Derby, that emotion was real. When I saw the tears streaming down his face after the race, I felt like crying myself.”
Thrust from relative anonymity to the national spotlight with a victory aboard I’ll Have Another in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, Mario Gutierrez has not only kept his ego in check, he’s thoroughly enjoying the whirlwind ride.
The 25-year-old learned to ride from his father, Mario Gutierrez, Sr., a quarter horse trainer, in Veracruz, Mexico. On a visiting Canadian trainer’s advice, the younger Gutierrez made his way to Hastings Park, where he started his career as an apprentice in 2006. He soon hooked up with one of Hastings’ premier trainers, Troy Taylor, and the pair enjoyed great success. When Taylor was ready to try Southern California, he invited Gutierrez along. Taylor returned to Canada this year but persuaded the rider to remain.
Through a series of “right place, right time” events, Gutierrez got to ride I’ll Have Another to victory in the Santa Anita Derby and despite pressure to get a more experienced pilot, owner J. Paul Reddam stuck with Gutierrez and was rewarded with a victory in the world’s most famous race.
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