08/02/2010 1:13PM

Debutante, Grace coming up strong at Santa Rosa

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This weekend’s two stakes at the Sonoma County Fair, the Wine Country Debutante for 2-year-old fillies on Saturday and the Joseph Grace on the turf for older horses on Sunday, attracted 14 and 11 nominees, respectively.

Perfect Curls, winner of Northern California’s only 2-year-old stakes for fillies, and Belleofthebridle, runner-up in the Willard Proctor at Hollywood and third in the Landaluce there, are the top nominees for the Debutante.

Among the nominees for the Grace are Moudez, winner of the Forerunner at Keeneland in April in his last start; Sir Al, runner-up in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby earlier in his career; and the graded stakes winner Autism Awareness.

Run It, coming off wins in the Grade 3 Berkeley at Golden Gate and the Alamedan at Pleasanton, is passing the Grace and has been turned out.

“He had a couple tough races in a row and showed he needed some time after that race in Pleasanton,” trainer Dennis Patterson said.

Martinez looking for luck

No one is looking forward to Week 2 at Santa Rosa more than jockey Michael Martinez.

Martinez, who was second in the jockey standings at the Golden Gate Fields meet earlier this year, came into the Sonoma County Fair meet in Santa Rosa on a hot streak. He defeated Russell Baze for the riding title at Sacramento, notching 18 victories from 42 mounts there, while Baze went 12 for 37. Sixteen of his 31 mounts hit the board in the first week at Santa Rosa, but, surprisingly, he had only one victory.

“He’s riding for the same barns he was winning for at Sacramento,” said his agent, Dennis Patterson.

The 24-year-old Martinez, a native of Panama who is Alex Solis’s cousin, got a late start riding. He was 18 before he went to the famed Panamanian jockey school where riders like Laffit Pincay Jr. and Solis learned the basics of their trade.

“It’s all come together for him,” said Patterson. “He’s a natural rider. Horses just run for him.”

It doesn’t hurt that the personable Martinez is also one of the hardest workers in the morning, a trait that has opened doors to Northern California’s top barns.

Martinez may pick up a little karma for the second week of the meet. He rides Perfect Curls in the Wine Country Debutante on Saturday.

Lady Railrider eyes Del Mar

Trainer Steve Specht said Lady Railrider came out of Saturday’s third-place finish in the Luther Burbank Handicap tired but in good shape. The race was the first in nine months for Lady Railrider, a multiple stakes winner.

He is looking at the Aug. 22 Solano Beach at Del Mar for her next start, one day after another of his horses, Antares World, could run in the Del Mar Oaks.

The top four finishers in the Luther Burbank finished within a length of each other. Christmas Ship defeated You Lift Me Up by a nose in the 1 1/16-mile turf race, with Lady Railrider three-quarters of a length farther back and a head in front of Ms. G.I. Jane.

“If she’s dragging, we could change plans, but she’s a tough mare,” Specht said.

Big fields at Santa Rosa

Artistically, Week 1 of the Sonoma County Fair was a success.

Director of racing Richard Lewis said that Thoroughbred races averaged 9.8 entries, with an average of 8.1 actually running after scratches. Thoroughbred field size was 8.8 for 10 races on Saturday and 9.1 for nine races on Sunday.

Local trainers invade south

Northern California-based trainers Jerry Hollendorfer and Jeff Bonde won the weekend’s graded stakes at Del Mar.

Hollendorfer won the Grade 2 San Diego at Del Mar with Dakota Phone. He also trained Christmas Ship and You Lift Me Up, who ran one-two in the Luther Burbank. The Bonde-trained Smiling Tiger won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar on Sunday.

Betting declines at Sacramento

The California State Fair at Sacramento showed a decline in handle for its two-week meet that ended July 25.

Following a national trend in declining handles, Sacramento was down 22 percent for its ontrack handle and 18 percent on overall handle from 2009.

Sacramento handled $1,881,408 on track for its 10-day meet, compared with $2,427,117 in 2009. The all-sources handle was $10,163,332, compared with $12,462,935 in 2009.

TOC seminar on Saturday

Trainer Steve Sherman will be the guest speaker to discuss the ins and outs of racehorse ownership at Saturday’s racing seminar at Santa Rosa, which is sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

The 11 a.m. seminar, hosted by track announcer Michael Wrona at Shade Park next to the track, will include TOC representatives providing information about horse ownership, tax considerations, partnerships and contracts and strategies for running a successful racing business.