07/03/2007 11:00PM

Australian trainer plays on global stage


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Imagine if Todd Pletcher took Octave to Australia to run in one of that country's richest races, and you can start to wrap your head around what trainer David Hayes and his filly Anamato will try to accomplish Saturday in the Grade 1, $750,000 American Oaks at Hollywood Park.

Hayes, 44, the son of the great Australian trainer Colin Hayes, has followed in his father's footsteps to become the leading trainer in his native land, with more than 200 horses in his care. Anamato is that country's second- or third-leading filly, having captured a Group 1 race in her most recent start. If Anamato can win here, she will add to Hayes's glittering international reputation, which already includes a victory apiece in the Melbourne Cup and the Japan Cup and two training championships during a decade in hyper-competitive Hong Kong.

"When I took Better Loosen Up to Japan, he became the only Australian horse to win the Japan Cup," Hayes said outside Hollywood Park's Barn 50 on Wednesday morning. "I've traveled to Dubai. I've competed in the Hong Kong International races. That sort of thing whets my appetite to want to come here. It's probably the main reason to come. I want to showcase the Australian horses and challenge the Americans."

That wanderlust took Hayes to Hong Kong only five years after he first started training his own string in Australia, and only a year after winning the Melbourne Cup with Jeune.

"I wanted to prove myself on the international stage," Hayes said. "Like most Australian golfers or tennis players, I wanted to prove myself internationally. At the time, Hong Kong had the healthiest racing in the world. I went for three years, and stayed for 10."

Hayes returned to Australia just two years ago to oversee the sprawling Lindsay Park training and breeding facility that was founded by his father 40 years ago in the Barossa Valley, Australia's version of California's Napa Valley. Hayes picked up right where he had left off a decade earlier.

During his first stint as a trainer in Australia, from 1990-1995, Hayes won five straight training titles in both Melbourne and Adelaide, became the first Australian trainer to win 300 races in a season, and sent out six winners of group stakes races on Derby Day at Flemington. In his first season back, 2005-06, Hayes won 34 stakes with 27 runners, five Group 1 stakes, and, echoing Pletcher, won 61 races with 45 different 2-year-olds.

This past season, which recently ended, Hayes won his sixth training title in Melbourne, and his runners earned $19.1 million (Australian), an Australian record.

Anamato is the first horse Hayes will run in the United States, but he would like to make this trip an annual visit, and perhaps extend it. With Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, the height of the race season is during our winter, the nadir during our summer.

"I'd like to bring five or six with me next year and stay through Del Mar, with a campaign of about three races," Hayes said. "We're going to take a good look at the program here and decide if it's feasible."

In addition he said, "I haven't raced in Europe, but I'm looking to do that in the next couple of years."

"If the Australian horses can compete here," Hayes said, "it will be good for our industry, not just me personally. It's an easier flight than going to Europe, and there's not as many turf horses here. It's hard to market an Australian horse here without knowing the form, but if you put a horse under their nose, it might make them more attractive."

Anamato has won four times in 17 starts. Her victory in the Australasian Oaks at Morphettville on April 21 was accomplished at 1 1/4 miles, the same distance as the American Oaks. Her regular rider, Michael Rodd, will be in for the mount. She also has the advantage of being several months older than many of her rivals, since she is just a month shy of her actual fourth birthday, having been born in August on Southern Hemisphere time.

But in so many other ways, Anamato is taking the worst of it. She left a cool winter climate and arrived in the midst of a heat wave in Los Angeles wearing an inappropriate winter coat. Her coat has improved in the two weeks she has been here, but only in recent days - when other foreign horses competing here this weekend arrived in Barn 50, which serves as a quarantine barn - did Anamato start eating to her usual standards, Hayes said.

"She was fretting being on her own," Hayes said. "Once some of the Japanese horses arrived, she had some friends, and her intake was back to normal."

Race-day medication is not allowed in Australia. Anamato will not race with Lasix, but will use Bute, Hayes said.

"She doesn't have a history of bleeding, and she's got to go back home and race without it," Hayes said. "She will use Bute. It can only help with the firm ground."

Hayes had his sights set on the American Oaks a year ago, but the filly he wanted to bring tailed off. Anamato, he said, fit his criteria.

"She's got a lovely temperament," he said. "She handles change. Some don't handle change. She has a lovely constitution. And you have to have group form.

"She has raced against the cream of the Australian fillies. I'm confident if she brings her 'A' game here, she'll run well."