09/05/2009 11:00PM

Cerin eager to get Afleet Eagle back in action


DEL MAR, Calif. - It seems as if a long time has passed since Afleet Eagle won the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 22, at least from trainer Vladimir Cerin's perspective.

Since the Oceanside, Cerin has been waiting, mostly impatiently he admits, for Sunday's $350,000 Del Mar Derby, the next race for Afleet Eagle.

"A friend of mine said I was wishing my life away, waiting for the race to come," Cerin said.

Cerin's considerable confidence in Afleet Eagle will be tested in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf. The race has drawn Battle of Hastings, a four-time stakes winner this year; Meteore, the beaten favorite in the Oceanside who won the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap on Aug. 15; and Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem, to name three of the nine entrants.

Afleet Eagle made his stakes debut in the one-mile Oceanside. He stalked the pace to the end of the backstretch and pulled away in early stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Cerin skipped the La Jolla Handicap to prepare Afleet Eagle for the Del Mar Derby.

"He looks happy and strong," Cerin said. "It's hard to run in all three."

In the Oceanside, Afleet Eagle made his first start in 10 weeks, having run in an allowance race at Woodbine in early May. The six-week break between the Oceanside and Del Mar Derby is not a concern, the trainer said.

"He ran so well fresh coming back from Canada," Cerin said. "He's gutty horse and an improving horse. Who knows how good he could be?"

One difference on Sunday is the rider situation. Corey Nakatani replaces Tyler Baze, who rides Battle of Hastings.

Trained by Jeff Mullins, Battle of Hastings swept the two Grade 2 stakes on turf at Colonial Downs in Virginia during the summer under Baze - the Colonial Turf Cup over 1 3/16 miles on June 20 and the Virginia Derby over 1 1/4 miles on July 18. In both races, he rallied from off the pace to win by a head.

Battle of Hastings won two turf stakes at Santa Anita in the spring and would be on a five-race win streak were it not for a second in the Grade 3 American Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 1.

"He's getting better and better with age," Mullins said.

Battle of Hastings may need to be closer to the front than normal to be effective on Del Mar's tighter turf course. "I'll leave it up to Tyler," Mullins said.

The Del Mar Derby will be the first start in California for Oil Man since a win in the Grade 3 Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 21. In two subsequent starts, both at Arlington Park, Oil Man was fifth in the Grade 2 American Derby on July 11 and fourth in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes.

"He was in those paceless races in Chicago," trainer John Sadler said. "I think he'll run really well."

It is not clear how Papa Clem will take to turf. Fourth in the Kentucky Derby, Papa Clem had three workouts on the course in August, giving trainer Gary Stute hope.

"If he likes the grass, I think he has a chance," Stute said.