Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who shipped Good Reward west for a 16-to-1 upset victory in the 2004 Hollywood Derby, hopes to spring another surprise with Imagining in the $250,000 Grade I test for 3-year-olds at 1 ¼ miles on grass at Hollywood Park Sunday.
The Derby climaxes the Turf Festival, five grass stakes for a total of $950,000 in purses to be run here Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Hollywood Park stable area took on the look of a mini-Breeders’ Cup Wednesday with the arrival of horses from England, Ireland, New York, Kentucky, Maryland and Florida for the rich races.
Imagining, a chestnut homebred owned by Phipps Stable, arrived here Monday on a Tex Sutton flight that originated in New York with stablemate Rescue Squad—ticketed for the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap here December 3—and was stabled with Jerry Hollendorfer in Barn 70 South.
“They settled in really well and both galloped for the first time this morning,” said Jennifer Patterson, assistant to McGaughey, accompanied by groom Jorge Molina.
Imagining, a lightly raced son of Giant’s Causeway, broke his maiden at third asking at 1 1/8 miles on the Belmont Park turf September 21 and finished fifth in an allowance race at one mile on the Belmont grass in his last start October 26.
“I think he’ll really like this distance,” said Patterson. “A mile was too short for him. A mile and a quarter should suit him really well.” Javier Castellano has the Derby call.
Imagining was accompanied on the flight by two other Derby candidates: Casino Host from New York for trainer Chad Brown, and Willcox Inn from Kentucky for trainer Michael Stidham.
Casino Host, who finished third in the Virginia Derby in July, arrived with groom Jose Pedro Morales and was stabled in Barn 70 North with trainer Humberto Ascanio.
Brown, 32, is one of the fastest-rising young trainers in the game and would love to win the race as a tribute to the late Bobby Frankel, who died two years ago.
Brown worked as an assistant for Hall of Famer Frankel for five years before going on his own in 2007 and credits Frankel as having the most influence on his career.
“Chad worked here and I could see he was smart and had a passion for the game,” said Ascanio, Frankel’s long-time chief assistant. Now Brown has shipped his first Hollywood starter to the barn Frankel long occupied while becoming the runaway all-time leader in Turf Festival wins with 17.
Another homecoming story involves Stidham, who shipped Willcox Inn with exercise rider Alfredo Alvarado to Barn 54 South with Mike Puype. “It’s always fun to come back,” said Stidham. “I started training in Florida, but within a year moved to California. This is basically where my career began from 1980 to the early 1990’s.” Stidham moved to Northern California before relocating in 1994 to the Midwest, where he still retains a circuit between Chicago, New Orleans and Kentucky.
Willcox Inn, to be ridden by Robbie Albarado, figures to be one of the favorites on the strength of victories in the American Derby and Hawthorne Derby. “This is a race we had been looking at for quite a while if he ran well in the Hawthorne Derby,” said Stidham.
Willcox Inn, named after a historical hotel in Aiken, S.C., is a Kentucky-bred son of Harlan’s Holiday and will have a new co-owner for the Derby. Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stable, which won the 2006 Hollywood Derby with Showing Up, bought a 50 per cent interest from previous owner All In Stable, a large partnership.
“We have been high on him from the start,” said Stidham. “He won his first start with Animal Kingdom second and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf two races later.”
English invaders Western Aristocrat and Slumber, who both cleared quarantine Friday, each worked three furlongs, although on different surfaces.
Western Aristocrat worked three furlongs on Cushion Track in 35.40 seconds under Wayne Tanner, assistant to trainer Jeremy Noseda. “He was happy,” said Tanner of the colt who shipped to New York to win the Grade I Jamaica Handicap at Belmont in his last start.
Slumber breezed three furlongs on a turf course listed good in 38.40 seconds under exercise rider Heather Johnson to the satisfaction of foreman Geoff Snook. Trainer Charles Hills will be here to saddle the Juddmonte Farms colt before he is transferred to Bill Mott in Florida.
The probable Hollywood Derby lineup: Cloud Man (Mike Smith), Irish Art (Rafael Bejarano), Slumber (Garrett Gomez), Surrey Star (Chantal Sutherland), Western Aristocrat (Corey Nakatani), Ultimate Eagle (Martin Pedroza), Venomous (Joel Rosario), Cozy Kitten (Alonso Quinonez), Willcox Inn (Albarado), Imagining (Castellano) and Casino Host (Joe Talamo).
Never Retreat, with designs on an Eclipse Award, exercised on the turf course Wednesday for the $250,000 Matriarch Stakes Friday, a Grade I test for fillies and mares at one mile on grass.
“She just galloped and stretched her legs once around,” said Arthur Coontz, assistant to trainer Chris Block, after the drill under exercise rider Sylvester Robles. “This was her first morning under tack.
“She shipped fine,” said Coontz of the flight from Kentucky Monday and arrival in Barn 70 North with trainer Eoin Harty. Never Retreat, a 6-year-old mare by Smart Strike, has won five graded stakes this year, including the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland in her last start on October 8.
Gypsy’s Warning, who won the Matriarch last year for trainer H. Graham Motion, was joined in Barn 53 North by stablemates Summer Soiree and Unbridled Humor, who were flown west Tuesday from Motion’s training center in Fair Hill, Md., by Fed Ex from Newark, N.J. Gypsy’s Warning arrived here by the same route Thursday.
“All three were on the track this morning: Summer Soiree and Gypsy’s Warning to gallop and Unbridled Humor to jog,” said Alice Clapham, assistant to Motion. “I can’t remember Graham ever having three in a Grade I before.”
Unbridled Humor drew post one, Summer Soiree post two and Gypsy’s Warning post five in a field of nine. Never Retreat drew post eight.
CALIMONCO SEEKS REDEMPTION IN CITATION
Larry Benavidez, assistant to trainer John Sadler, hopes to dismiss the last outing by Calimonco, entered in the $250,000 Citation Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf Saturday.
“We’re at a loss to explain his last race; it was a big disappointment,” said Benavidez Wednesday in reference to a seventh-place finish, beaten by 16 lengths, in the Oak Tree Mile on October 8.
Calimonco looked like a horse on the stakes rise after his previous two starts: a victory in the Wickerr Stakes and a game third-place finish in the Del Mar Mile, both on the Del Mar turf.
Calimonco, a royally-bred 5-year-old horse by Storm Cat out of the Kris S. mare Sweet Life, is a full brother to Breeders’ Cup winners Sweet Catomine and Life Is Sweet.
A homebred owned by Pam and Marty Wygod, Calimonco drew the rail in a field of nine and will be ridden for the first time by Mike Smith in the Citation. Oak Tree Mile winner Jeranimo, the probable favorite, drew post two with Garrett Gomez under high weight of 122 pounds.
Trainer Mike Mitchell is mixing with elite company these days. Joining Charlie Whittingham in second place for Hollywood Park wins with 859 last week, the 63-year-old conditioner has only Frankel ahead of him at 952.
Mitchell is flattered to be mentioned with either of the late Hall of Famers. “Charlie was such a great horseman and such a neat guy, but I think Bobby was the greatest horseman I have ever seen,” said Mitchell Wednesday.
“I remember when I was getting started here working for Farrell Jones, we had an unbelievable meet here and won 52 races, but Bobby won something like 60,” recalled Mitchell.
“They were both great horsemen,” continued Mitchell. “Charlie bringing Cougar (II) back off a year’s layoff to win the Santa Anita Handicap was really something. I wouldn’t say that I patterned myself after Bobby, but I watched the way he did things more closely.”
Mitchell seeks his first victory in the $100,000 Vernon Underwood Stakes Saturday with a pair of entrants—Pacific Ocean and Carbonite—in a field of nine.
Joss Saville, assistant to trainer Michael Matz, rewarded Assateague with a sweet in her stall in Barn 53 North Wednesday in preparation for the $100,000 Miesque Stakes Friday.
“She loves her sweets,” said Saville after the filly exercised on the main track for the second morning following her arrival Monday. She was shipped from Florida to Kentucky and flown here.
Assateague, named after an island inhabited by wild horses off the Virginia coast, drew post six in a field of eight and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, who guided her to a maiden score at Keeneland October 26.
Also on the flight was More Than Love, a maiden winner at Belmont for John Terranova, who was stabled in Barn 61 North with Bob Baffert.
English invader Island Paradise, victorious in one of two starts for trainer Charles Hills, drew the rail in the Miesque. She got a feel of the turf Wednesday morning and will remain here with Paddy Gallagher after the Miesque.
Blue White Fire, an Irish invader for the $100,000 Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds Sunday, worked three furlongs on Cushion Track in 35.80 seconds Wednesday.
“He breezed nicely,” said Jeff Hughes, assistant to trainer Dermot Weld. “He was in good form. He was in hand.”
Blue White Fire, victorious in one of four starts in Ireland, finished fifth in the Group II Juddmonte Beresford Stakes at one mile on a heavy Curragh course on September 25.
“He needs firm going,” said Hughes. Garrett Gomez will ride the colt in the Grade III test at one mile on grass. Other probable starters include Battle Force (Mike Smith), Handsome Mike (Rafael Bejarano), Major Magic (Joe Talamo), Senor Rain (Martin Garcia) and Stoney Fleece (Joel Rosario).
Major Magic worked five furlongs on turf in 1:01.40 for trainer Neil Drysdale.
FINISH LINES—Trainer Robert Holthus, who shipped Pure Clan out to win the 2008 American Oaks here, died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack in Louisville at age 77. A memorial is scheduled Saturday at Churchill Downs for Holthus, a fixture on the Midwest circuit for nearly 60 years…Euroears will carry high weight of 126 pounds in the Vernon Underwood Stakes Saturday, the stakes-record highweight carried to victory last year by Cost of Freedom. Comebacking Comma to the Top blew out three furlongs in 35.60 for the Underwood, in which he drew post six in a field of nine…Trainer Bob Baffert, who has won a record four Hollywood Prevue Stakes, seeks number five Thursday with So Brilliant in the Grade III test for 2-year-olds at seven furlongs…First post Thursday is 11 a.m…The first Friday matinee of the meet follows with a 12:30 post.
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