Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Rafael Bejarano, who teamed to score a 5 ¼-length victory with even-money favorite Heatseeker in The Californian last year, hope for a return trip to the winner’s circle with Dakota Phone in the $250,000, Grade II stake at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park Saturday.
Dakota Phone worked six furlongs in 1:15 under Bejarano Sunday in his final drill for The Californian, a major prep for the $700,000 TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11. Heatseeker was scratched as the morning-line favorite in the Gold Cup with an ankle injury and subsequently retired last year.
Assistant Dan Ward, who oversees a Hollendorfer division here, hopes Dakota Phone earns the opportunity to run in the Gold Cup with a big race in The Californian.
Dakota Phone, a 4-year-old gelding co-owned by Hollendorfer and Halo Farms, has recorded four firsts, five seconds and three thirds in 17 starts and earned $275,010. He finished third in his last outing in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap here on May 9.
“His work was very good and this race should set up better for him than the Mervyn LeRoy,” said Ward in reference to a slow pace that hurt him in the 1 1/16-mile race.
“It seems like a well-spaced series for him,” said Ward in reference to starts in the Santana Mile at Santa Anita in April, the Mervyn LeRoy in May, The Californian this month and possibly the Gold Cup in July. “He tries hard every time.”
Three other Californian probables also worked on Cushion Track: Rail Trip, five furlongs in :59.40 under jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr., for trainer Ron Ellis; Aitcho, six furlongs in 1:13 for trainer John Shirreffs; and Informed, six furlongs in 1:14 for trainer Doug O’Neill.
Rail Trip, who won the Santana Mile by a nose over Dakota Phone and suffered his first loss in six starts when he finished second to Ball Four in the Mervyn LeRoy, may try to set the pace again after electing to stalk in the Mervyn LeRoy.
Ellis and Valdivia united to win the 2007 Californian with Buzzards Bay.
Aitcho, coming off a sharp allowance score here April 26, will make his stakes debut for Shirreffs, who finished second in The Californian last year with Tiago.
Informed, second by a nose in the San Pasqual Handicap, will be one of two entrants for O’Neill, who will also enter Ukiah. O’Neill won the 2005 Californian with Lava Man.
A field of nine is shaping up: Aitcho (Mike Smith), Awesome Gem (Alex Solis), Ball Four (Joseph Talamo), Dakota Phone (Bejarano), Informed (Tyler Baze), Limestone Edge (Joel Rosario), Rail Trip (Valdivia), Ukiah (Corey Nakatani) and New Mexico invader Song of Navarone (Victor Espinoza).
Trainer Bruce Headley plans to enter both Free Flying Soul and Silver Swallow in the $70,000-added Desert Stormer Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares on Cushion Track here next Sunday.
Silver Swallow, a stretch-running 5-year-old mare, seeks her first added-money victory after being stakes-placed five times. She was second in the Railbird Stakes and Hollywood Oaks here in 2007 and third in the Vanity Handicap here last year. Garrett Gomez will ride the gray/roan mare for the first time.
Free Flying Soul will make her stakes debut in her fifth start. The front-running 4-year-old filly has won two of her last three starts. She finished second, one-half length behind Silver Swallow, in a 6 ½-furlong optional claiming race here April 26 in their last starts. Joseph Talamo, who won the Desert Stormer on Ashley’s Kitty last year, will ride Free Flying Soul for the first time.
The Headley duo is expected to be joined in the race by defending champion Ashley’s Kitty (Joel Rosario), Coco Belle (Mike Smith), She’s Cheeky (Alex Solis), Toro Bonito (Victor Espinoza) and Waveline (Rafael Bejarano).
Coco Belle and She’s Cheeky both turned in five-furlong bullet works Sunday in 59 seconds for trainers John Sadler and Peter Eurton, respectively.
Obrigado worked six furlongs on turf in 1:18 Sunday for trainer Neil Drysdale for the $100,000 Round Table Handicap at 1 ¾ miles on grass Saturday. Joel Rosario has the call on the French-bred 6-year-old gelding for Drysdale, who won the race last year with Cedar Mountain.
Other probable starters are Porfido, who finished third last year; Leesider, Temple City and Plug Me In, who was supplemented for $2,000 by trainer Mike Mitchell.
FINISH LINES — Southern Fireball and Well Deserved head the lineup in the $70,000-added Cinderella Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 5 ½ furlongs Thursday… Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, likes Tuscan Evening’s chances in the $250,000 Royal Heroine Mile July 11 after a wire-to-wire victory in the Redondo Beach Stakes Saturday in stakes-record time of 1:33.78 for one mile on turf. Ward said the 4-year-old Irish-bred filly could be rated off the pace if necessary. “The jockey can put her wherever he wants,” said Ward. “She has that burst of speed turning for home. But she has so much speed I don’t know if anybody can keep up with her.”…Trainer John Sadler said the $300,000, Grade I Triple Bend Handicap at seven furlongs is next for Noble Court, winner of the 7 ½-furlong Ack Ack Handicap Saturday…The $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship July 12 is next for Classical Slew, winner of the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes Thursday, according to trainer Doug O’Neill, who won the race last year with Azul Leon…Happy birthday to Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, 73 today.
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