11/26/2009 12:00AM

Cowboy Cal looks all set to rebound

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Barbara D. Livingston
Cowboy Cal, a three-time stakes winner this year, finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but his connections are hoping for a return to form in the Grade 1 Citation on Friday. The race could be the final start of his career.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - By the time Cowboy Cal reached the eighth pole of the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7, he was one worn-out 4-year-old colt. Setting a quick pace took its toll, and he faded to finish 10th of 11.

It was Cowboy Cal's worst performance of the year, but it did not leave trainer Todd Pletcher discouraged. Less than three weeks later, Cowboy Cal is back for Friday's $300,000 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park.

This time, the race scenario could work in favor of Cowboy Cal, who is seeking his fourth stakes win of the year.

"I talked to Todd and he feels the colt seems to have bounced back in good shape," said John Adger, the racing manager for owner-breeders Robert and Janice McNair. "I think he got caught up in a hot pace last time. We're hoping he'll be able to bounce back."

The Grade 1 Citation, which is run over 1 1/16 miles on turf, could be Cowboy Cal's final start. A winner of 7 of 18 starts and $1,001,810, Cowboy Cal may go to stud in 2010, with a decision possible as early as next week, Adger said.

Cowboy Cal's three stakes wins this year have come in Grade 2 races - the San Pasqual Handicap and Strub Stakes on the synthetic track at Santa Anita last winter, and the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile on turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 10. The Oak Tree Mile performance was impressive. Cowboy Cal led throughout, set a quick pace, and held off a late run from Global Hunter.

Garrett Gomez had the mount in the Oak Tree Mile, but Rafael Bejarano will ride Cowboy Cal in the Citation. Gomez will ride Blue Chagall, the winner of the restricted Lure Stakes over a mile on turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 18.

Trained by Julio Canani for Prestonwood Racing, Blue Chagall, 4, was gelded during the summer and has since won 2 of 3 starts. In his only loss during that span, he finished a troubled sixth in an optional claimer at Del Mar in late July.

"Since I gelded him, he's been a different horse," Canani said. "He's doing unbelievable."

Blue Chagall is a threat from off the pace, along with the South American group stakes winner Fluke, the 2008 Grade 1 winners Ever a Friend and Monzante, and Skyrush, the winner of the Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar in August.

Fluke is one of two entrants trained by Humberto Ascanio, the former assistant to the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel. Fluke and Proudinsky will make their first starts for Ascanio in the Citation.

Fluke, a 4-year-old Brazilian-bred colt, scored a flashy win in an optional claimer at Santa Anita back in March, but lost his next four starts before winning an optional claimer at Belmont Park on Sept. 18.

"I breezed him a couple of time and he looks like a nice horse," Ascanio said.

Proudinsky, the winner of the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap at Fair Grounds last March, has not started since finishing third in the Monmouth Stakes on June 13.

Ever a Friend can threaten Cowboy Cal early. He won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile in March 2008 but missed 17 months because of bone chips in an ankle. Ever a Friend returned to win an optional claimer on the hillside turf course on Nov. 5.

"We know he's that good a horse," trainer Mike Mitchell said. "I wanted to get a good race under his belt."

Mitchell also runs Monzante, who was sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf earlier this month. Last year, Monzante won the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar, but has lost his last four starts. Mitchell said he was not discouraged by the loss in the BC Turf, considering the race was Monzante's first at 1 1/2 miles on turf.

"Either he can't go that far or he's not that good," Mitchell said. "I'll go with the former one. I thought at the quarter pole, with his turn of foot, it looked like he could win."