Trainers Neil Drysdale and Bobby Frankel, who followed Charlie Whittingham into the Hall of Fame, seek to equal the record seven victories the late racing legend recorded in a race later named for him.
Drysdale will send out defending champion Artiste Royal and Frankel will saddle Midships in the $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, a Grade I test at 1 ¼ miles on the Hollywood Park turf Saturday.
The Whittingham is the feature of a 10-race program that begins at noon and includes the simulcast of the Belmont Stakes from New York. The Hollywood Park card also includes two other stakes, the Ack Ack Handicap and Redondo Beach Stakes.
Drysdale, a native of England, worked as an assistant to Whittingham from 1970-74, a period when Whittingham won the race previously called the Hollywood Invitational Turf Handicap with Fiddle Isle in 1970 and Cougar II in 1971.
“That would be really something if I could tie Charlie by winning the race a seventh time,” said Drysdale Thursday. “Anything to do with Whittingham is special.”
Drysdale learned his lessons well and won the race with Both Ends Burning in 1985, Political Ambition in 1988, Storm Trooper in 1998, White Heart in 2000, Storming Home in 2003 and Artiste Royal in 2008.
Artiste Royal, who rallied to win a three-horse photo finish last year, seeks to become the first horse to win the race more than once since John Henry won for the third time in 1984.
Artiste Royal, an 8-year-old Irish-bred ridgling, has won seven of 30 starts and earned $895,790 and seeks to become a millionaire with a repeat. He finished third in the San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita in March and was scratched from the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 2.
“He’s been a bit unlucky,” said Drysdale of the scratch because of soft turf. “But I don’t think the time off will make any difference. He appears to be in good form.”
Frankel, who trains out of the same barn that Whittingham previously occupied at Hollywood Park, won the race with Life Cycle in 1973, Johnny’s Image in 1979, Exbourne in 1991, Quest For Fame in 1992, River Bay in 1999 and Denon in 2002.
Midships, a 4-year-old gray/roan colt, finished third in the Hollywood Derby last November in his United States debut after joining the Frankel stable from Europe and comes off consecutive wire-to-wire victories on the Santa Anita turf in the San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano handicaps.
Midships will leave from post two under Victor Espinoza and Artiste Royal from outside post six under Joel Rosario. Both will carry 118 pounds, one less than high weight Madeo.
Trainer John Sadler will saddle two contenders in the $150,000 Hollywood Oaks, a Grade II test for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track Sunday.Evita Argentina drew post six under Joel Rosario and Third Dawn drew seven with Rafael Bejarano in a field of eight.
Evita Argentina, a triple stakes winner at seven furlongs, is unbeaten in two starts at Hollywood Park. “It’s time to try a mile and a sixteenth again,” said Sadler of the daughter of Candy Ride. “The only time around two turns was in the Breeders’ Cup (when she finished ninth).”
Third Dawn finished second by a nose behind champion Stardom Bound in the Santa Anita Oaks but finished eighth in her last start in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland April 4, both Grade I races at 1 1/16 miles on synthetic. “She didn’t like the track at Keeneland,” said Sadler. “I was going to run her in the Railbird (Stakes here May 10) but she had a stomach issue.”
Sadler finished third in the race last year in a three-horse photo with Tasha’s Miracle.
Trainer Barry Abrams, who won that photo with Lethal Heat, will defend with another daughter of Unusual Heat, Pretty Unusual, who drew post four with Alex Solis.
Song of Navarone, a triple stakes winner in New Mexico this winter, will ship west for his next start in the $250,000 Californian at Hollywood Park on June 13. The Grade II test at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track serves as a major prep for the $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11.
Song of Navarone, a 5-year-old son of 1992 Gold Cup winner Sultry Song, has won eight of 12 starts for trainer Henry Dominguez and earned $667,158.
Song of Navarone won the Sunland Park Handicap for his third straight added-money victory on April 19 and was a closing third in the Lone Star Park Handicap on May 25, beaten by a half-length despite being three-wide on both turns.
Song of Navarone, owned by George Coleman, will be shipped here Monday and ridden in The Californian by Victor Espinoza.
Other probable starters include Aitcho (Mike Smith), Awesome Gem (Alex Solis), Dakota Phone (Rafael Bejarano), Limestone Edge (Joel Rosario) and Rail Trip (Jose Valdivia, Jr.).
Ashley’s Kitty seeks to become the first horse to win the Desert Stormer Handicap twice when she defends honors in the $70,000-added sprint for fillies and mares at six furlongs on Cushion Track June 14.
The 5-year-old mare returned from a 10-month layoff to finish third in an allowance race here May 7. Joel Rosario has the call for trainer Ted H. West.
Other probable starters include Coco Belle (Mike Smith), She’s Cheeky (Alex Solis), Silver Swallow (Garrett Gomez), Toro Bonito (Victor Espinoza) and Waveline (Rafael Bejarano).
FINISH LINES —Six horses — Leesider, Obrigado, Porfido, Romp, Temple City and Zappa — were nominated to the $100,000 Round Table at 1 ¾ miles on turf June 13…Jockey Garrett Gomez, who returns here Sunday, will be in Kentucky June 13 to ride Arson Squad in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs… Tom Robbins, racing secretary at Del Mar, was a backside visitor Thursday morning…Notable works on Cushion Track included Get Funky, 4f, :48.20; Life Is Sweet, 5f, 1:01.20, and Time to Get Even, 5f, a bullet :59.60.
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