08/31/2013 1:27PM

Del Mar: Aotearoa taking next step in I’m Smokin Stakes


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DEL MAR, Calif. – Aotearoa is the only undefeated runner among the eight starters in Monday’s $150,000 I’m Smokin Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds at Del Mar.

“Let’s hope he stays that way,” trainer Leonard Powell said Saturday morning.

Aotearoa, who races for his breeder, Paul Viskovich, won his debut against California-breds over 5 1/2 furlongs Aug. 4, drawing off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. The win led to a brief conversation between Viskovich and Powell about a potential start in Wednesday’s $300,000 Del Mar Futurity against open company. They opted for the restricted I’m Smokin, which is run over six furlongs.

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“I think it’s wise for the development of the horse to go step by step,” Powell said. “If he was a filly or a colt, it would be different, but he’s a gelding, and it makes sense to go where you can win.”

Mike Smith rode Aotearoa on Aug. 4, but is at Saratoga on Monday. Julien Leparoux has the mount on Aotearoa.

“I think Julien will fit him well,” Powell said. “We hope for a good trip. He’s getting better and stronger.”

There are no stakes winners in the I’m Smokin field. Gangnam Guy was third in the Graduation Stakes here July 31. Solid Wager, fifth in the Graduation, was third in the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 15.

Jedi Mind Trick makes his stakes debut after winning a $25,000 claiming race for maidens at Sacramento on July 19 and a starter allowance here Aug. 15 in his debut for trainer John Sadler.

[DEL MAR 2013: Complete meet coverage, schedule, race replays]

Clenor eyes Cup spot

Clenor went from a third-place finish in the Group 3 Balanchine Stakes at The Curragh on June 30 to winning her American debut in a maiden race on turf here Aug. 7.

When she starts in Monday’s $100,000 Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf over a mile, trainer Doug O’Neill is hoping she can move closer to a start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita in November.

Clenor earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 62 in her maiden win, a performance O’Neill thinks will lead to improvement.

“It was a slow-numbered race, but a repeat of that would make her competitive,” O’Neill said. “She should move forward.”

Clenor drew the rail for the Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf. She broke from the inside in her maiden race win and closed from sixth to score by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths at 4-5. Rafael Bejarano was aboard for the maiden race win and has the mount Monday.

“After a half-mile, she jumped into it,” O’Neill said. Bejarano “rode her confidently, and she got the job done.”

Clenor, an Irish-bred by Oratorio, is the only runner in the Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf who has raced on grass.

The field includes three maidens, including Tiz the Key, who was fourth in her debut over six furlongs July 28. Trainer Richard Mandella had Tiz the Key entered for a maiden race Sunday, but was strongly considering Monday’s race.

“She acts like a good filly,” he said. “I have a feeling she’ll really like the grass.”