Updated on 09/16/2011 6:39AM

From afterthought to favorite

Benoit & Associates
Momentum, the likely favorite in the San Fernando, wins the Native Diver at Hollywood Park in his first dirt race.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Momentum was excluded from the Hollywood Derby six weeks ago because he did not have sufficient accomplishments in graded stakes.

A lot has changed since then.

On Saturday, Momentum is the likely favorite in the $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes for 4-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita. His newfound respect can be credited to a victory against older horses in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 9, his first start on dirt.

The Native Diver gave owner Paul Reddam and trainer Craig Dollase a reason to point Momentum to the Grade 2 San Fernando rather than to turf races.

"It all kind of fell into place," Dollase said.

Imported from England in October, Momentum is the only one of the 12 entrants for the San Fernando to have won a graded stakes in the U.S. in his last start. Fancy As, a seven-time stakes winner in western Canada last year, makes his U.S debut in the San Fernando. He comes off a win in the Grade 3 Premiers Stakes at Hastings Park in Vancouver in October.

Other top contenders include Orientate and Sigfreto, the first two finishes of the Sir Beaufort Stakes on turf on Dec. 26; *, who was third in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26; and Western Pride, who won the Ohio and Calder derbies last fall.

Momentum is expected to be in mid-pack early, stalking the expected pace of Western Pride and Orientate. Last year, Western Pride led throughout the Ohio and Calder derbies and was on the lead to early stretch of the Hollywood Derby before fading to finish fourth.

Momentum used his stalking style to beat Euchre in the Native Diver. In England, he won three times, tracking the leaders in each race before taking over in the final furlong.

"He rated super the other day," Dollase said, referring to the Native Diver. "He'll put himself where he needs to be. I'd like it to be farther. For him, the longer, the better."

The San Fernando distance should suit Orientate.

Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Orientate won the Indiana Derby over 1 1/16 miles last fall, but was 12th over 1 1/4 miles in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park. He was never threatened on the front in the Sir Beaufort, though Lukas insists he does not need the lead.

"He'd never run on turf," Lukas said. "The only time he'd ever seen turf was when he was grazing. It was a better spot for him than the Malibu, even though he's pretty quick. Sometimes, you guess right."

Despite the large field, there is not a Grade 1 winner among those entered. For several in the field, the San Fernando is the toughest race of their careers.

Bring Home Thegold makes his stakes debut following wins in two allowance races. Mo Mon and Discreet Hero, who were fifth and seventh in the Malibu, will be longshots, as will Pie N Burger, who is trained by Bob Baffert.

Reef Diver makes his U.S. debut for trainer Ben Cecil following a win on the all-weather circuit in England last month.

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. starts Stormin' Heaven, who has won his last three starts and is making his stakes debut. A $1.2 million yearling purchase in 1999, Stormin' Heaven is a closer who could be a late factor if there is a fast pace.

"We're the best of the longshots," Hess said. "We're looking for an indication to go to the Strub. In his favor, he's lightly raced, but he lacks the experience of some of the participants."

Momentum could give Dollase his second win in the San Fernando. In 2000, Dollase pulled an upset with 24-1 Saint's Honor, who finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of the strongly favored Cat Thief, the winner of the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic.

On Saturday, Dollase has the horse the others will be trying to beat.


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