11/04/2009 6:41PM

Freak Flag Flying


California Flag

Everything was going just fine, said trainer Brian Koriner, with a simple trip to the starting gate and a scheduled gallop Wednesday morning until California Flag saw a bunch of European horses saunter past in the three-quarter mile chute. That's when the gray horse decided to join them, dumped rider Colleen Hartford, and went rogue.

Aaron Gryder, always on the watch for a good mount, was on the backside minding his own business when he looked up and saw California Flag coming his way. A stablehand stepped up to collar the Cal-bred, but then he had to go back to work, so Gryder volunteered to take CF back to his barn. "I'm just the hotwalker," Gryder said as he led a sheepish California Flag home. Joe Talamo still has the mount.

"Everybody's okay," Koriner said a little while later. "A little quarter mile blowout the Wednesday before the race never hurt anybody."

Just because California Flag is the course record holder and morning line favorite for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint doesn't mean he has to behave like a reasonable animal. None of them are machines, or if they are, they are very unpredictable machines who require constant supervision.

In the meantime, defending Turf Sprint champ Desert Code is going about his business so far beneath the radar that he was dissed at 20-1 on Jon White's official morning line. Ouch. "That's okay," said trainer Dave Hofmans. "We'll sneak up on them again." Hofmans' two other Breeders' Cup winners paid $41.70 (Alphabet Soup, 1996 Classic) and $83.40 (Adoration, 2003 Distaff) on two-dollar bets. Desert Code returned $75 last year, so maybe 20-1 is an underlay.