Trainer Genaro Vallejo is no longer surprised about the surprises that Autism Awareness has pulled at the track. The 4-year-old colt that was purchased as a yearling for $1,000 and named by his owner to promote awareness of the autism with which his son was born scored his first stakes victory in the 2008 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows as a 62-to-1 longshot.
In his last start at Golden Gate Fields on May 25, Autism Awareness posted his second stakes victory in the Berkeley Handicap at 30-to-1 odds with jockey David Lopez.
That prompted Vallejo and owner Johnny Taboada to consider the $700,000 TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup Saturday for the colt’s next start. Autism Awareness was shipped south Monday, entered Wednesday, and drew the rail in a field of 13 in the Grade I test at 1 ¼ miles on Cushion Track.
“We wanted to give him an opportunity to run against top horses and see how good he is,” said Vallejo Thursday from Barn 74 West.
Autism Awareness is listed at 30-to-1 on the morning line under Lopez in a wide-open race. “He comes off the pace,” said Vallejo. “David will just let him break, take hold and see what happens. He seems like he’s training strong and seems very happy so we hope for the best.
“The best thing about the race is that Lava Man is retired,” said Vallejo with a smile in reference to the three-time Gold Cup winner from 2005-2007.
Vallejo, a 30-year-old native of Guadalajara, Mexico, recommended the purchase of the colt to Taboada for $1,000 at the Northern California Sale in 2006. “I watched the stud (Tannersmyman) when he was running and liked him, and when he retired, I thought he was one of our better ones,” said Vallejo. “I thought the colt was a good-looking one at the sale, and we got him cheap.”
It took the California-bred colt 13 starts to break his maiden. “Running him long was the key,” said Vallejo of the switch from sprints. “And he has just gotten better and better.” Autism Awareness has won four of 22 starts and earned $281,745.
Vallejo has trained for five years and has 20 horses, six for Taboada, who is in the real estate business in Pleasanton. “He used the name to get more people aware of autism,” said Vallejo of the developmental disability that affects his son, Renzo. Both are expected to be here Saturday cheering for their favorite horse.
Owner-breeder Marty Wygod is spending the week in Canada on a fishing trip before returning in time Saturday in hopes of hooking the big one.
That would be with home-bred 4-year-old filly Life Is Sweet, who hopes to become the first female in 41 years to win the coveted Hollywood Gold Cup, a Grade I test at 1 ¼ miles on Cushion Track.
Wygod decided a couple of weeks ago that rather than face unbeaten female champion Zenyatta again in the Vanity Handicap after running a soundly beaten second to her in the Milady Handicap here, he would roll the dice against males for the first time with the multiple stakes winner.
Life Is Sweet and Zenyatta are both trained by John Shirreffs in Barn 55 South here. Shirreffs said he could never recall starting a female against males before but hoped for the best in a wide-open race.
“With 13 horses, she’s going to need a little luck to work her way through the field,” said Shirreffs of the stretch-running filly who drew post 10 under Garrett Gomez and was established as the 9-2 second choice behind New York invader Parading at 4-1.
Princessnesian was the last female to win the Gold Cup in 1968 as a 4-year-old. Ridden by Don Pierce for trainer J.W. Maloney and owner William Haggin Perry, she won by a neck over Racing Room as part of an entry favored at 9-to-10 with another female star, Gamely, who finished seventh.
Princessnesian became the third female to win the Gold Cup, following in the footsteps of Happy Issue in 1944 and Two Lea in 1952. Two Lea, like Princessnesian, was part of a favored two-female entry. Two Lea, a 6-year-old mare, was coupled with Wistful, who finished ninth for Calumet Farm and trainer H.A. Jones.
Life Is Sweet will become the 29th female to start in the 70-year history of the Gold Cup and the first since Kilijaro, who finished seventh in 1981.
Zenyatta, unbeaten in 11 starts following her Vanity victory under 129 pounds, worked five furlongs breezing in 1:03.20 Thursday for her next probable start in defense of her title in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 9.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has taken a call to ride Conservative for the first time in the $300,000 Swaps Stakes for 3-year-olds here on July 18. Conservative, runner-up in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in April, was shipped here from New York on June 29 by trainer Shug McGaughey for the Phipps Stable.
Smith seeks his third Swaps victory after scoring with Came Home in 2002 and Tiago in 2007.
Other probable starters in the Grade II test at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track include Affirmed Handicap winner Grazen (Rafael Bejarano), Affirmed runner-up Misremembered (Victor Espinoza) and multiple stakes-placed Massone (Joel Rosario).
Also nominated are Advice, Cape Truth, Dover Street Art, Mythical Power, Quindici Man, Scorewithcater and Supreme Summit.
FINISH LINES — Round Table Handicap winner Obrigado worked seven furlongs on turf in 1:29.60 for the $150,000 Sunset Handicap, closing-day feature July 19 at 1 ½ miles on turf. Joel Rosario has the call back for trainer Neil Drysdale …Desert Stormer Handicap winner Coco Belle seeks her third straight victory in the $150,000 A Gleam Handicap for fillies and mares at seven furlongs on July 18…Pams Pompallier, a recent arrival in the Ray Bell stable, worked six furlongs on turf in 1:17.80 as she neared her United States debut. The 6-year-old New Zealand-bred mare won five of 17 starts in New Zealand and is nominated to the A Gleam…*Mike Smith* will be in Canada Sunday to ride Mr. Foricos Two U in the Prince of Wales Stakes — second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown — at Fort Erie.
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