08/18/2010 3:55PM

Cleaner trip may be all Fortunia needs in Sandy Blue

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Jockey Tony McNeil’s introduction to California racing was a rude encounter aboard Fortunia in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on July 25. The filly was in trouble throughout the mile and finished last of 10.

“It wasn’t a good trip,” he said.

The loss did not dim expectations regarding Fortunia for owner-breeder Janeen Oliver, trainer Cash Asmussen, or McNeil, who also works for Asmussen as an assistant at Del Mar this summer. Fortunia makes her second start of the meeting in Friday’s $75,000 Sandy Blue Handicap for 3-year-old fillies over a mile on turf.

In the San Clemente, McNeil had Fortunia on the rail and the filly never seemed comfortable.

“She was a little rank with me and I got bounced around a lot on the backstretch,” McNeil said. “She didn’t like that.”

Even though Fortunia was well beaten in her last start, her springtime form in Texas looks better than ever. In her stakes debut in the Grade 3 Ouija Board Handicap at Lone Star Park on May 31, Fortunia was second by a head to Wasted Tears, who returned to win the Grade 2 John Mabee Stakes here last Sunday.

McNeil will not ride Fortunia in the Sandy Blue. He was scheduled to travel to Remington Park in Oklahoma City on Thursday to ride a stakes for Asmussen on Saturday, and plans to return to Del Mar on Sunday. Corey Nakatani picks up the mount on Fortunia.

“Corey will get along with her,” McNeil said.

The Sandy Blue drew a field of 10, but is unlikely to have that many starters. La Nez won the Fleet Treat Stakes for statebreds over seven furlongs here on July 31, but is likely to be scratched in favor of the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes on the main track here on Sept. 5, trainer Eric Kruljac said.

Three other fillies have stakes experience this summer. Excellent News was sixth in the Fleet Treat Stakes. Got an Itch, a minor stakes winner at Turf Paradise in April, was seventh in the Le Cle Stakes at Hollywood Park last month, and Conniption was seventh in the San Clemente, beaten 1 3/4 lengths.

Trainer Simon Callaghan said he thinks Conniption can improve from the San Clemente.

“I think this is a good spot,” Callaghan said. “If she reproduces that, we’ll have a good chance. Her last race was good.”