08/06/2013 1:37PM

Del Mar: Dry Summer, recently gelded, ready to fire in La Jolla

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Dry Summer wins the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park in February. He also won the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last September.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Dry Summer won four of his first nine starts, including stakes at Del Mar and Sunland Park.

He is no longer the same horse.

Since finishing eighth in the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico on March 24, Dry Summer has been gelded, leading to hope from owners Michael House and Sam Britt and trainer Jeff Mullins that the 3-year-old could be on the verge of a career-best performance when he starts in Saturday’s $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar.

Dry Summer, it seems, is a more comfortable horse these days than he was previously, when he raced as a ridgling. The proof may come in the Grade 2 La Jolla, run over 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-olds.

The La Jolla will be Dry Summer’s first start since the Sunland Park Derby, and first start on turf since an 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last fall. Mullins said that he and jockey Joe Talamo already have noticed improvement in Dry Summer, particularly in turf workouts.

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“It wasn’t that evident until we started breezing him,” Mullins said. “From the time you started breezing him, you could see the difference. Joe felt the difference.”

Dry Summer, a Kentucky-bred by Any Given Saturday, was purchased for $120,000 as a 2-year-old in training in April 2012 and nearly paid back House and Britt last year. He won a maiden race on the synthetic track at Del Mar in July and won his stakes debut in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last September.

After three consecutive losses – an eighth in the FrontRunner Stakes, 11th in the BC Juvenile Turf, and fourth in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January – Dry Summer was sent to New Mexico. Trained there by Joel Marr, Dry Summer won 2 of 3 starts – taking an allowance race and the Mine That Bird Derby – before losing in the Sunland Park Derby.

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

“We freshened him up,” House said last weekend. “After the Sunland Derby, we just gave him time off.”

Dry Summer is one of a few horses that House and Britt have in partnership.

“We’re just two ornery old guys that get along,” House said. “He’s a good partner.”

The partners have a surplus of turf 3-year-olds this year. They share ownership of Gabriel Charles, who was a game second in a division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 17 in his first start since December. Gabriel Charles is a candidate for the $300,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 1, a race that could include Dry Summer, pending the results of Saturday’s race.

House, 75, lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., where he is semi-retired from a commercial real estate business. Britt, 82, is a cattle rancher from Clayton, N.M.

Britt has a longtime involvement with Thoroughbreds in New Mexico, racing such stakes winners as Tin Can Sailor and Rare Ruby.

House has owned the Mullins-trained Battle of Hastings, a millionaire who won five stakes from 2009 to 2011, and California-based stakes winners Cayoke, Delta Storm, and Nazirali.

Winning a Del Mar Derby with Dry Summer or Gabriel Charles would be gratifying, he said, considering Battle of Hastings was narrowly beaten by the longshot Rendezvous in that race in 2009.

“We got beat a dirty nose in the Del Mar Derby with Battle of Hastings,” he said. “The jockey and the horse both went to sleep.”

Tuesday, Mullins was reluctant to commit Dry Summer for the Del Mar Derby, preferring to assess the gelding’s performance Saturday. The La Jolla will be Dry Summer’s third start on turf. The weeks of watching Dry Summer prepare for his comeback and his first start as a gelding is nearing an end.

“Before you had to urge him to do what he does,” Mullins said. “Now, he does it on his own and is more comfortable.”