08/16/2010 1:23PM

California Flag may be rusty for return in Green Flash

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Benoit & Associates
California Flag's victory in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint was his last U.S. start.

DEL MAR, Calif – It has not been an easy summer for the older geldings California Flag and Cost of Freedom, major stakes winners who meet for the first time in Wednesday’s $75,000 Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar.

California Flag, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita last fall for owner-breeder Keith Card, was briefly sidelined last month because of a bruised foot. The setback has left trainer Brian Koriner cautious about California Flag’s chances of defending his title in the five-furlong Green Flash.

“He’s probably not as sharp as he was last year at this time,” Koriner said.

At the same time, Koriner said that California’s Flag has worked well in recent weeks. “His last two works have been good,” he said.

California Flag has not started since finishing third in the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai in March. He was fifth in the $1.54 million Hong Kong Sprint in Hong Kong last December. The BC Turf Sprint was California Flag’s last start in the United States.

Cost of Freedom makes his turf debut in the Green Flash, which has drawn a field of seven. Trained by John Sadler for Gary and Cecil Barber, Cost of Freedom was fifth as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes here on Aug. 1. He lost all chance when he stumbled badly at the start.

“This is a do-over for Del Mar,” Sadler said.

Sadler said Cost of Freedom’s presence in the Green Flash could lead to more turf starts later this year.

“If he likes it, going into Churchill Downs this fall, this gives us options, more races to look at,” Sadler said.

California Flag and Cost of Freedom need to be at their best to beat My Summer Slew, who won two turf sprints at Hollywood Park earlier this year, including the Robert Kerlan Memorial Handicap. My Summer Slew was entered in the Bing Crosby, but was scratched in favor of the Green Flash.

“We’ll stay on the turf,” trainer Craig Dollase said. “He’s had two good works on it, and we’ll stick with what works.”

If California Flag and Cost of Freedom get caught in a speed duel, My Summer Slew, a stalker, could be well-placed.

“They have a lot of heat, but we have a fit horse,” Dollase said.