09/30/2009 11:00PM

Cal-bred titles going down to wire

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Benoit & Associates
Georgie Boy, now sidelined, won the Sunshine Millions Sprint and Grade 2 San Carlos.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Perhaps the final three months of the year will be kinder to California-breds than the first nine months of 2009.

So far this year, no California-bred has won a Grade 1 race. By this time last year, there had been four. On a brighter note, a California-bred 2-year-old, Strike the Tiger, won the Windsor Castle Stakes at the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting in England in June, about the last thing anyone would have forecast at the start of the year.

The 2009 stakes results have left an open race for the California-bred horse of the year title. Saturday's California Cup program, the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6-7, and the rest of the major stakes of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting and the Hollywood Park fall meeting could help sort out that title.

The horse of the year, and the divisional winners, will be decided by a vote of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association membership. The award will be presented early next year.

Here is a glance at the eight statebred divisions, with the three leading contenders for each listed in alphabetical order.

OLDER MALE

Georgie Boy

Tribal Rule-Ippodamia, by Peterhof

* Owner-breeder: George Schwary

* Trainer: Kathy Walsh

Liberian Freighter

Bertrando-Anachristina, by Slewpy

* Breeder: King Edward Racing Stable

* Owners: Shawn Dugan, Estate of Ed Nahem, Charles Winner

* Trainer: Neil Drysdale

Unusual Suspect

Unusual Heat-Penpont, by Crested Wave

* Breeder: David Abrams

* Owners: Barry, Dyan, and David Abrams

* Trainer: Barry Abrams

This is a category badly in need of a standout.

Earlier this year, there were a few outstanding prospects among older males, but they have since been sidelined.

Liberian Freighter was an excellent sprinter in the spring, winning the Sensational Star Handicap on turf at Santa Anita and the Tiznow Stakes on the main track at Hollywood Park. He has not raced since early June.

Georgie Boy is unbeaten this year, but has made only two starts, winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint and the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap during the winter at Santa Anita. Soundness problems have forced him out of training. He's won 6 of 11 starts in his career, with all of his wins coming in stakes.

Unusual Suspect is bound for the Breeders' Cup Marathon next month, having earned an automatic berth with a win in the Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar. He has lost his last two races. Back in January, he was third in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita, the best finish in that race for a California-bred.

Other notable runners in the division include Unusual Smoke, who won the Khaled Stakes in April; Bold Chieftain, who won the Governor's Handicap at Sacramento last month; the turf horse Dewey's Special, who won the California Dreamin Handicap at Del Mar; and Star Nicholas, who won the Windy Sands Handicap last month.

OLDER FEMALE

Bootleg Annie

Go for Gin-Shu Biz Annie, by Jaklin Klugman

* Breeders: Richard and Yvette Wira

* Owners: Al and Sandee Kirkwood

* Trainer: Kathy Walsh

Hot n' Dusty

Unusual Heat-Eager Dusty, by Eager Eagle

* Breeder: Madeline Auerbach

* Owners: Little Red Feather Racing and Auerbach

* Trainer: Barry Abrams

Waveline

Stravinsky-Teresa Ann, by Boston Harbor

* Owner-Breeder: Paul Reddam

* Trainer: Ben Cecil

This is a deeper category than the older males, but one in which the leading participants have taken turns winning important races.

No one could have predicted at the beginning of the year that Bootleg Annie would earn $213,928 through September in a season highlighted by a win in the Fran's Valentine Stakes at Hollywood Park in April. She began the year in optional claimers and ran in a $40,000 claimer in February. She was later third to the consistent You Lift Me Up in the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar in August.

Hot n' Dusty earns a spot on this list for durability. She has won 3 of 16 starts this year. While none of her wins came in stakes, she was second twice at Del Mar, in the Solana Beach Handicap and Adoration Stakes. She starts in Saturday's California Cup Matron.

Waveline won the B. Thoughtful Stakes at Hollywood Park in April in track-record time (seven furlongs in 1:20.89), her only win in six starts this year. Waveline has not raced since June and has not worked since the summer. She was second in the Irish O'Brien Stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year.

Lethal Heat, winless in five starts this year, deserves honorable mention for the company she has kept. She was third to national champion Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar in August. Later at that meeting, she was third against males in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile and was second by a neck in the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap.

The candidates for the older female championship also include You Lift Me Up, who starts in Saturday's California Cup Distance Handicap, and Lady Railrider, who won the Work the Crowd Handicap at Golden Gate Fields and was second in the Sunshine Millions Distaff. She starts in the Matron.

SPRINTER

Georgie Boy

Tribal Rule-Ippodamia, by Peterhof

* Owner-breeder: George Schwary

* Trainer: Kathy Walsh

Johnny Eves

Skimming-Capote's Halo, by Capote

* Owner-breeder: Mooncoin Inc.

* Trainer: Jay Robbins

Liberian Freighter

Bertrando-Anachristina, by Slewpy

* Breeder: King Edward Racing Stable

* Owners: Shawn Dugan, Estate of Ed Nahem, Charles Winner

* Trainer: Neil Drysdale

Unfortunately, the three crack sprinters that have accomplished the most this year - Georgie Boy, Johnny Eves, and Liberian Freighter - are not expected to run in the upcoming major stakes. Johnny Eves was retired last month, while Georgie Boy and Liberian Freighter are not in training.

Georgie Boy may have earned the sprint title with his two stakes wins earlier this year, but there are a few promising candidates that could disrupt that bid in coming days and weeks.

M One Rifle, a 3-year-old, is a top candidate for Saturday's California Cup Sprint. After finishing third in his debut in April, M One Rifle has reeled off three consecutive wins for trainer and co-owner Bruce Headley.

Cost of Freedom won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes last October, and will attempt to win the same race on Oct. 11. He was fourth in the Pirate's Bounty Stakes at Del Mar on Sept. 9 in his 2009 debut, behind the improving Dancing in Silks, a candidate for the Cal Cup Sprint.

One of the best California-bred sprinters is California Flag, who races exclusively on turf. He won the Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 19 in his first start of the year and Wednesday's Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita.

The late-closer Big Bad Leroybrown, second in the Golden Gate Sprint, and Nikki'sgoldensteed, third in the Grade 1 Pat O'Brien Stakes, have had excellent seasons.

TURF HORSE

Dewey's Special

Skimming-Shewalksinbeauty, by Prized

* Breeder: Cardiff Farm Management Corp.

* Owner: Moore Racing

* Trainer: Ron Ellis

Strawberry Tart

Atticus-Mylittletart, by Strawberry Road

* Breeder: Valentine Farm

* Owners: George and Mary Clare Schmitt

* Trainer: Jeff Bonde

You Lift Me Up

Lord Carson-Up On Her Toes, by Green Dancer

* Breeder: Tommy Town Thoroughbreds

* Owners: Jerry Hollendorfer and George Todaro

* Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Dewey's Special, bound for Saturday's California Cup Mile, overcame a leg injury from 2008 to win his first three starts this year, highlighted by the California Dreamin' Handicap at Del Mar in July. Even though the Cal Cup was still more than two months away, trainer Ron Ellis decided at that time to point the 4-year-old gelding to the Mile off a layoff.

The 3-year-old filly Strawberry Tart and the 4-year-old filly You Lift Me Up had excellent summer campaigns.

In a span of just five weeks, Strawberry Tart developed from a speed-oriented filly capable of winning the Manhattan Beach Stakes over six furlongs on turf to one who could win the Flawlessly Stakes over a mile on turf from off the pace. She was later second by a nose in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on turf before finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. She starts in Saturday's California Cup Distaff.

You Lift Me Up won the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar in her eighth start of the year, four of which were second- or third-place finishes in turf stakes. Along the way, she was a close second in the Yerba Buena Handicap against open company at Golden Gate Fields on April 4 and third to Black Mamba in the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

California Flag has done his best work on turf. One gelding that could be in the discussion by the end of the year is Enriched, a 4-year-old half-brother to the seven-time Grade 1 winner Lava Man. Enriched won two allowance races on turf over the summer and runs in the California Cup Mile.

3-YEAR-OLD MALES

Grazen

Benchmark-Hazen, by Rubiano

* Owner-breeder: Nick Alexander

* Trainer: Mike Mitchell

Compari

Redattore-Southern Charm, by Dixieland Band

*Owner-breeders: Harris Farms, Don Valpredo, John Nicoletti

* Trainer: Marty Jones

M One Rifle

One Man Army-Leanessa, by Bertrando

* Owner-breeders: Ed Bernstein, Brian Greenspun, Bruce Headley, and Irwin Molasky

* Trainer: Bruce Headley

Appropriately, Grazen made his 2009 debut on a major day for California-breds, the Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park in April. He won the NTRA Stakes for maidens that day by 2 1/2 lengths and has been enhancing his reputation with every subsequent start.

Grazen won an allowance race and the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap and was second in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes later at the Hollywood Park meeting. In his lone start at Del Mar, he won the El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds over a mile, a race that trainer Mike Mitchell designed as a prep for the California Cup Classic.

Mitchell has big plans for Grazen, even considering a start in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile next month. A win Saturday would give Grazen a major boost in the California-bred horse of the year voting.

Compari won the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds on Gold Rush Day but has not started since because of foot issues.

M One Rifle, bound for Saturday's California Cup Sprint, looks like the sort of gelding that could wind up in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters at the end of the year. Typical of a Bruce Headley-trained runner, M One Rifle has been allowed to develop at his own time, having finished third to Grazen in the NTRA Stakes in his career debut.

M One Rifle won three consecutive starts at Hollywood Park and Del Mar during the summer. It would not be a surprise if he improves further.

3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES

Beltene

Unusual Heat-Wallis of Windsor, by Wavering Monarch

* Breeder: Charlotte Wrather

* Owner: La Canada Stables

* Trainer: Jack Carava

Excessive Blend

In Excess-Blending Element, by Great Commotion

* Owner-breeder: Warren Williamson

* Trainer: Carla Gaines

Strawberry Tart

Atticus-Mylittletart, by Strawberry Road

* Breeder: Valentine Farm

* Owners: George and Mary Clare Schmitt

* Trainer: Jeff Bonde

Yet another category where the leading contenders are inactive.

Excessive Blend was brilliant at Del Mar, winning the Fleet Treat Stakes for statebred 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs on July 25 in her stakes debut and the Sandy Blue Handicap on turf in her first stakes appearance on that surface.

Unfortunately, that was it for her career. Trainer Carla Gaines said last weekend that Excessive Blend was diagnosed with a tendon injury after the Sandy Blue and has been retired to be bred.

Strawberry Tart starts in Saturday's California Cup Distaff, trying to rebound from a disappointing result in the Del Mar Oaks.

Beltene was one of two California-breds to win Sunshine Millions races at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita in January. Beltene won the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita, her third consecutive win. She made four more starts after the Oaks, with her best result a third behind Pretty Unusual in the Melair Stakes for statebreds at Hollywood Park in April. She has not raced since the summer.

Chalula One has yet to win a stakes but has come close, finishing second in the Melair and Fleet Treat Stakes.

2-YEAR-OLD MALES

John Scott

Bertrando-Henlopen, by Deputy Minister

* Owner-breeders: Scott Gross and Harris Farms

* Trainer: Carla Gaines

Strike the Tiger

Tiger Ridge-R Lucky Strike, by In Excess

* Owner-breeders: Wesley Ward, Mitchell Dutko, Ray Saintz

* Trainer: Wesley Ward

Wolf Tail

Strive-Bright Sunday, by Dynaformer

* Owner-breeder: Ed Delaney

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

John Scott is the division leader, for now. The colt is unbeaten in two starts, both come-from-behind wins. He won a maiden race at Del Mar and the I'm Smokin Stakes there on Sept. 7.

Owners Scott Gross and John Harris and trainer Carla Gaines could have taken the easy path and pointed John Scott to Saturday's $100,000 California Cup Juvenile, but have opted for the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes on Sunday, hoping to justify a trip to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.

Strike the Tiger made international news in June, when he won the Windsor Castle Stakes in a 33-1 upset over a straightaway five furlongs on turf at Royal Ascot. The win had been preceded by a debut victory in a $30,000 claiming race for maidens at Churchill Downs in April.

To prove the Windsor Castle win was not a fluke, Strike the Tiger returned to the United States and won the Chenery Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Colonial Downs on July 25. He did not fare as well in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs on Sept. 7, finishing seventh in a race that was taken off the turf because of wet weather.

Wolf Tail also had mixed form during the summer. He won the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar on July 29 in a 17-1 upset, but was no factor in the I'm Smokin Stakes, finishing only sixth of 10. He starts in the California Cup Juvenile.

Daylight Storm, second in the I'm Smokin, and Grace Upon Grace, second in the Graduation, appear to be promising sprinters. Grace Upon Grace is being given the rest of the year off by trainer Walther Solis.

2-YEAR-OLD FILLIES

Repo

In Excess-Miss Nicolie, by Walter Willy

* Breeder: Ron Gomez

* Owner: Paul Reddam

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

La Nez

Storm Creek-Iza Bay, by Iz a Saros

w Breeder: Chance Kruljac

w Owners: Eric Kruljac, Nezi Simmons

w Trainer: Eric Kruljac

Camille C

Roman Dancer-Paris Operetta, by Rahy

* Breeders: Rod and Lorraine Rodriguez

* Owner: Carlos Polanco

* Trainer: Marcelo Polanco

Repo has been a standout in the division, winning the Landaluce Stakes and CTBA Stakes in July and finishing second by a nose to Judge Joan in the Barretts Debutante at Fairplex Park on Sept. 19. Her only bad performance in that stretch was a fifth to Mi Sueno in the Grade 1 Darley Debutante at Del Mar on Sept. 5.

La Nez chased Repo in the CTBA Stakes, finishing second, won a maiden race at Del Mar on Aug. 15, and ran a game third at 41-1 in the Darley Debutante. She runs in Saturday's California Cup Juvenile Fillies over seven furlongs. Hard to believe she began her career with a third in a $40,000 claiming race for maidens at Hollywood Park in June.

Camille C has been a late-developing filly. She needed four races to beat maidens, and then pulled a surprise win in the Generous Portion Stakes over six furlongs at Del Mar on Sept. 2, leading throughout.

La Nez is trained by Eric Kruljac, who also has Whispering Hush, second as the 8-5 favorite in the Generous Portion. Still a maiden after two starts, Whispering Hush will start in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Judge Joan showed considerable fight to win the Barretts Debutante in her second start, engaging the leaders from the start. A $120,000 purchase at the Barretts May sale of 2-year-olds in training, Judge Joan was fourth in a maiden race at Del Mar in August and has room for further improvement.