11/26/2010 2:01PM

Claiming days are over for Fantastic Pick

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Benoit & Associates
Fantastic Pick wins the Oak Tree Derby - only three races after having run for a $50,000 claiming tag.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – It looked like an act of desperation by trainer Jamie Lloyd when he entered Fantastic Pick in a $50,000 claiming race at Del Mar during the summer. The colt had lost his first four starts in this country, with a third in an optional claimer as his only placing.

The decision to try Fantastic Pick in a claimer was a calculated risk, but one that turned out to be the springboard to an autumn milestone, with possibly more to come.

Fantastic Pick starts in Sunday’s $250,000 Hollywood Derby, fresh from a 22-1 upset in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby here on Oct. 16, Lloyd’s first graded stakes win as a trainer. Having Fantastic Pick in a race such as the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby seemed impossible during the summer.

“The whole idea of the $50,000 claimer was to get his confidence back,” Lloyd said earlier this week. “He’s taken a big step forward ever since.”

Fantastic Pick spent the first few races of the year making little progress. Fantastic Pick was bought for approximately $40,000 by Lloyd at a sale in England in the fall of 2009, and is now owned by Jim Ford, Robert Maycock, and Ken Smole. It would not have been a disaster if Fantastic Pick had been claimed away.

“I was hoping that he wouldn’t be taken,” Lloyd said. “It was a gamble. We thought we could get away with it.”

Fantastic Pick won the claimer by a half-length, rallying from ninth in a field of 10. That was followed by a victory in an optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf in August, which led to a fourth in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby in September behind Twirling Candy. Lloyd was not discouraged by the 4 1/4-length loss in the Del Mar Derby, considering the circumstances.

“I think in the Del Mar Derby they went a little slow and he was back too far,” Lloyd said.

In the Oak Tree Derby over 1 1/8 miles on turf, jockey Corey Nakatani kept Fantastic Pick in second or third for the first mile. They took the lead in the final sixteenth and held off a late threat from French invader Blue Panis to win by a head.

“I’m really happy with him,” Lloyd said. “In his last three or four races he’s coming out better each time. He’s more forward and he pumps himself up.”

The addition of blinkers in the $50,000 claimer has been a boost to gelding’s career, Lloyd said. “The biggest thing was he was pulling himself up before the race was over and now he’s running to the wire,” Lloyd said.

Fantastic Pick has experience over the Hollywood Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf. In September, 2009, at 2, Fantastic Pick was second as the 4-5 favorite in a minor handicap over that distance at Nottingham.

The Hollywood Derby will be Fantastic Pick’s toughest test. Blue Panis and Sebastian Flyte, who was a fast-closing fourth in the Oak Tree Derby, are perhaps his main opponents. But Lloyd said he expects Fantastic Pick to run well again, regardless of how the race sets up.

“He’s versatile,” Lloyd said. “Most horses are a little one dimensional. He can sit close to the pace or fire or come from off it.”

Lloyd, 29, saddled his first winner in 2006 and won his first stakes that year when Hucking Hot won the Hidden Light Stakes at Santa Anita. A native of England and a former assistant to Jim Cassidy and Paddy Gallagher in California, Lloyd left training in 2008 to focus on bloodstock work, but returned to training last year.

Physically, Fantastic Pick is having a better autumn than his trainer. Wednesday, Lloyd injured an ankle on a tennis court, which led him to stay home from the barn on Thursday, with his leg in an air cast.

“I reached a little too far for a tennis ball,” he said.

There is no doubt that Lloyd will be at Hollywood Park on Sunday.

“To win this would be a nice wrap up for the year,” he said. “He’s a little horse but he doesn’t think he’s a little horse.”