04/21/2005 11:00PM

Cal-breds get six cracks at big money

Benoit & Associates
Texcess may be the biggest threat to Thor's Echo in the $250,000 Snow Chief on Sunday, Gold Rush Day.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Superstardom is not required Sunday at Hollywood Park, where 103 statebreds are scheduled to race for $1.3 million in purse money during the sixth annual California Gold Rush, a 10-race program for California-breds that includes six six-figure stakes.

"There's a chance for big money without running against the Storm Cats of the world," said trainer Doug O'Neill, who operates the largest stable in Southern California.

O'Neill will try to take full advantage by sending out 10 Gold Rush runners, including favorites in the two richest races - Thor's Echo in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds, and Cee's Irish in the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both were purchased privately after establishing early ability. Their birthplace is an added bonus.

"Once you find out it is a Cal-bred, it gives you a lot more options," O'Neill said, explaining their purchase. In fact, O'Neill's operation was built from success with statebreds, including a breakout win by Sky Jack in the 2000 California Cup Classic.

"That was my first whiff at a big day like that," O'Neill said, adding that the Cal Cup and Gold Rush are a "great opportunity for the horses that were not bought for $1 million as yearlings."

The Gold Rush is the springtime equivalent to the popular California Cup run each fall during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

"It is programs like [the Gold Rush] and California Cup that keep the breeding industry in California healthy," said owner-breeder Wes Fitzpatrick. "There's a lot of difference in the company you keep."

Fitzpatrick bred the veteran Continental Red, and hopes a drop in class will allow the 9-year-old to finally win a Gold Rush race. He runs in the Khaled Stakes, a race in which he finished second last year. Continental Red is the only 2005 starter who ran in the inaugural Gold Rush in 2000.

The Gold Rush has become a staple on the Hollywood calendar, and this year includes Dream of Summer and Alphabet Kisses, both Grade 1 winners; Texcess, winner of the $1 million Delta Jackpot; and the consistent Valentine Dancer. The card includes a $1 million guaranteed pool in the pick six (races 5-10).

The six stakes comprise the bulk of the $1.3 million in purses that will be awarded, led by the Snow Chief for 3-year-olds that goes as race 9. The 1 1/8-mile race is the richest on the card and is led by $500,000 WinStar Derby winner Thor's Echo, Texcess, and front-runner Lucky J.H.

The "classiest" stakes is race 8. The $150,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes for fillies and mares is run at seven furlongs, and attracted Grade 1 Apple Blossom winner Dream of Summer, and Grade 1 La Brea Stakes winner Alphabet Kisses. Seven others entered in what is essentially a two-horse race.

Contention goes deep in race 7, the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes. The 7 1/2-furlong race attracted 10 older horses, including Anziyan Royalty, who is unbeaten at Hollywood; Grade 1-placed Lava Man; Grade 3 winner Areyoutalkintome; and front-runner Unfurl the Flag.

In the Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, O'Neill starts the aces - Sunland Oaks winner Cee's Irish and rapidly improving Unusual Spring. The 1 1/16-mile Melair goes as race 5, and also includes Lady Bertrando and dropper Charming Colleen.

In race 4, the $150,000 Khaled, Continental Red will try to become the third horse to win a Hollywood stakes at age 9. To win the 1 1/8-mile grass race, Continental Red must defeat 4-year-old Running Free and front-runner Skywalker Red.

Race 1 features a standout - Valentine Dancer in the $150,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares includes Blind Ambition. Two maiden races (3 and 10), and two allowance races (2 and 6) complete the card.

Thor's Echo is the key horse in the Snow Chief. Purchased by O'Neill and partners for an undisclosed amount following a blowout maiden win in January, Thor's Echo was pointed for the WinStar Derby. "For what were paying, we thought we had better be competitive in the WinStar Derby, or we were going to be in trouble," O'Neill said.

No problem. Thor's Echo caught a speed-favoring track and won by a length. How much did the bias move him up? "It helped," said O'Neill, "We would be lying if we said it wasn't a speed-favoring track. But even though it was a speed-favoring track, he still had to do it. I think he's proven to us he can get the distance."

To win the Snow Chief, Thor's Echo must catch Lucky J.H., and hold off Texcess.

Going for the gold

Race NoNamePursePost Time
1Fran's Valentine$150,0001:20
2Warren's Thoroughbreds70,0001:52
3Pepper Oaks Farm60,0002:24
8B. Thoughtful150,0005:08
9Snow Chief250,0005:38

* $1 million guaranteed pick six on races 5-10
* All races for California-breds