Tuscan Evening, turf star of the West, and Forever Together, champion from the East, are poised for their showdown in the $250,000 Grade I Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the Hollywood Park grass Saturday.
Tuscan Evening, winner of four graded turf stakes at Santa Anita, completed preparations for the Jerry Hollendorfer stable with a seven-furlong work in 1:25.60 on Cushion Track Sunday under exercise rider Marco Ramirez.
“We’re ready,” said assistant trainer Dan Ward. “Forever Together better be ready to run a mile and an eighth in 1:45 and change, because that’s what we’re going to do.”
Jonathan Sheppard, trainer of Forever Together, said the 6-year-old mare, would work once more this week before being flown west Wednesday with assistant Anne Sinchak.
“She worked Wednesday at Camden, S.C., but I’m bringing her up here for her next work,” said Sheppard from his Ashwell Stable training base in West Grove, Pa.
Sheppard explained why he is sending the 2008 female grass champion to Hollywood Park for the first time. “She’s run in the Just A Game at Belmont the last two years (finishing third and second, respectively),” said Sheppard. “That’s a one-turn mile. The Gamely is a mile and an eighth, and I think she’s better suited to two turns. She’s older and has more stamina now.”
Sheppard has the enviable problem of trying to find spots to separate three outstanding grass females. He also conditions Rainbow View, winner of the recent Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico, and Fantasia, probable for the Just A Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 5.
Forever Together, owned by Augustin Stable, has run well in two previous California outings at Santa Anita: winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2008 and finishing third in the race last year. She has won nine of 21 starts and earned $2,842,639.
“There are some good horses out there, and we’re facing them on their home ground,” said Sheppard. “But we don’t have to duck anybody.”
Sheppard will try the Gamely for the second time after finishing second with Kool Kat Katie behind champion Fiji in 1998. He said Rajiv Maragh will ride the gray/roan mare for the first time in place of Julien Leparoux, sidelined with a back injury.
Regular rider Rafael Bejarano will be back on Tuscan Evening, a 5-year-old Irish-bred mare who has won 10 of 14 American starts and earned $899,408 for owner Will de Burgh.
The Gamely, the first Grade I of the meet, boasts a strong supporting cast expected to include Cat by the Tale (Martin Garcia), General Consensus (Alex Solis), Gotta Have Her (Tyler Baze), Medaglia d’Amour (Joel Rosario), Princess Haya (Joe Talamo) and Well Monied (Mike Smith).
Cat by the Tale worked six furlongs on Cushion Track in 1:14.20 for the Neil Drysdale stable.
Mr Gruff, seeking to stretch his talents to two turns, and Riviera Cocktail, looking to make a mark in graded stakes company, worked on the turf Sunday morning for the $250,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile on May 31.
Mr Gruff, winner of his last four starts on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita—including the last two runnings of the San Simeon Handicap—worked seven furlongs in 1:26.40 under exercise rider Jose Dominguez.
“The distance should be no problem,” said Ellis. “My only concern is he doesn’t seem to like this grass as much as he did the grass at Santa Anita. I expect to see him on the lead. He’s used to going (the first half) in 43 and change.”
Riviera Cocktail worked four furlongs in 50.80 to the satisfaction of trainer Neil Drysdale, a three-time Shoemaker winner. The 4-year-old colt is unbeaten in two starts on the Hollywood Park turf at the Shoemaker distance of one mile.
A field of six to nine is taking shape. Probable are Compari (Joel Rosario), Gallant Son (Mike Smith), Karelian (Rafael Bejarano), Monterey Jazz (Tyler Baze), Mr Gruff (Joe Talamo) and Riviera Cocktail (Alonso Quinonez).
Heading a list of possibles are Blue Chagall, Global Hunter and Tangled Tango.
Karelian, winner of the Grade I Makers Mark Mile in his last start at Keeneland, is scheduled to be flown here Wednesday. Trainer Rusty Arnold said a final work for the 8-year-old gelding at Keeneland was postponed from today until Monday because of heavy rain.
Trainer Jim Cassidy said that Evening Jewel would make her first start on grass in the $150,000 Grade II Honeymoon Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on May 31 after an encouraging turf work here Sunday.
“I was very happy with her,” said Cassidy after the filly worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:12.80 under exercise rider Lauren Robson. “She couldn’t have handled it any better. She went out pretty good and finished pretty good.”
Evening Jewel has glistened on synthetics and dirt to rank among the leaders in the 3-year-old filly division. In pulsating photo finishes in her last three Grade I races, she has sandwiched a victory in the Ashland Stakes between seconds to Blind Luck in the Las Virgenes Stakes and Kentucky Oaks, respectively.
“In Kentucky, they told us that was the most exciting Kentucky Oaks they have ever had,” said Cassidy. “I was also considering Evening Jewel for the Hollywood Oaks (June 6), but with Blind Luck going in there, I didn’t see the sense in the two of us beating each other up again.”
California-bred Evening Jewel has recorded three firsts and five seconds in nine starts and earned $516,943 for the Braly Family Trust. She will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.
Other probable starters include Andina (Joe Talamo), City to City (Joel Rosario), Cozi Rosie (Mike Smith), Dreamed to Dream (Brice Blanc), In the Slips (Rafael Bejarano) and Triple Cream (Tyler Baze).
In the Slips, third-place finisher in the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in her last start April 3, worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 on grass.
The same week that David LaCroix announced his retirement from training after a 33-year career, Pico Perdomo was back in action with his first United States starter in seven years.
“I’m a little rusty, but I’m getting there,” quipped Perdomo with owners Ron and Barbara Perry after sending out recent claim My Man Sumo to a sixth-place finish in a $12,500 claiming race Saturday.
Perdomo, who turns 68 this summer, returned this spring to the Hollywood base, where he currently conditions 10 horses, at which he gained fame with 2001 Eclipse Award-winning female Gourmet Girl and triple graded stakes winner Stalwart Charger in 1990.
“This is where I trained my first winner in 1977, El Glorioso, the same day Seattle Slew lost his first race in the Swaps,” said Perdomo, recalling the huge crowd.
Perdomo is back from a globe-trotting career change. He first switched careers to a bloodstock agent and spent much time in his native Uruguay, where he began on the racetrack as a jockey. Last year he accepted an offer to train in Saudi Arabia, but in September suffered a heart attack and underwent coronary surgery. He is happy to be back home in Mar Vista and in his old barn, 63 South.
LaCroix, 56, went out on a winning note Wednesday, saddling Drink at Buster’s to a 22-1 upset in a maiden race for 2-year-olds.
LaCroix, who has named several horses after restaurants and bars, explained that Buster’s is a bar near the Queen Mary in Long Beach that starter Gary Brinson recommended.
LaCroix explained that he had given extensive thought to retirement as a trainer although he will remain active as a small-time owner and breeder for his Meadowbrook stable.
“The stable wasn’t making money the last two years,” said LaCroix. “I want to get expenses down by closing down the racing operation.”
LaCroix said he sold Meadowbrook Farm in Ocala, Fla., in 2006 but still owns four horses in training, five broodmares and three yearlings.
“I may do a little pinhooking,” said LaCroix. “I’m going to turn ‘Buster’ over to Marty Jones. Two others will go to Mike Mitchell, and one to Mike Machowsky.”
LaCroix said he will divide the year between California, where he is moving from Manhattan Beach to Playa del Rey, and Florida, where his mother, Barbara, lives.
LaCroix wondered where the time had flown since he saddled the first winner of his career here on July 13, 1978. “Striding Out with Henry Moreno up,” said LaCroix as though it was yesterday.
LaCroix, who saddled 413 winners from 3,678 starts for earnings of $9,771,024, enjoyed stakes success here, from Unpredictable in the 1981 Haggin and 1982 National Sprint Championship, to Ticketed in the 1981 Hollywood Lassie, to Fonz’s in the 2001 Hollywood Prevue, to Corazondelcampeon in the 2006 Harry Henson.
“First they called me the young David LaCroix, later they just called me David LaCroix, then they didn’t call me at all,” concluded LaCroix in his self-deprecating sense of humor.
FINISH LINES—*Trainer *Walther Solis said he planned to start filly Belleofthebridle, an impressive 5 ¾-length winner in her debut here April 21, against colts in the $60,000-added Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds at 5 ½ furlongs on May 31. He also plans to start to start the colt Tappin Tough, another maiden first-time-out winner here May 1, in the Proctor…Trainer Mark Glatt listed Come Home Quick, a maiden winner here May 7, as probable and It Tiz as possible for the $60,000-added Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs next Sunday…Congratulations to syndicated handicapper Bob Ike for sweeping all nine races with his top selections Saturday…Best wishes for a speedy recovery to another syndicated handicapper, Jerry Antonucci, who underwent seven hours of surgery Thursday for removal of a brain tumor at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank…In his first work since finishing unplaced in the Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney’s Candy worked four furlongs in 48.20 breezing for his next start in the Swaps Stakes July 17. Trainer John Sadler also worked Santa Anita Oaks winner Crisp five furlongs in 59.80 for the Hollywood Oaks on June 6…The lone winning ticket in Friday night’s Pick Six that returned $112,216 was purchased for $24 at Golden Gate Fields. There have been nine occasions at the meet where there has been a single perfect ticket in the Pick Six…Jockeys Martin Garcia and David Flores will be at Lone Star Park on Memorial Day to ride in several stakes. Garcia has calls on Mythical Power and Bonnie Blue Flag for trainer Bob Baffert in the Lone Star Handicap and Cinemine Breeders’ Cup, respectively, and Dealer’s Choice for Mike Mitchell in the Dallas Turf Cup. Flores will ride Awesome Gem in the Lone Star Handicap and El Gato Malo in the Dallas Turf Cup, respectively, for trainer Craig Dollase, as well as Stormy Express in the Valid Expectations. Awesome Gem worked six furlongs here Sunday in 1:13.
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