07/14/2013 9:24PM

Del Mar: Yakteen believes he has a good one in Freakin Rocket

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Benoit & Associates
Freakin Rocket, a 3-year-old colt by Rock Hard Ten, has won his two career starts by a combined 15 1/4 lengths.

Tim Yakteen usually holds something back. Listen to him talk of his horses, and he often will be full of praise, with comments often tempered.

The 3-year-old Freakin Rocket may force Yakteen to change.

Unbeaten in two starts at Betfair Hollywood Park in May and June, Freakin Rocket makes his stakes and turf debut in the first division of Wednesday’s $100,000 Oceanside Stakes on Del Mar’s opening day. The colt’s career is only 60 days old, but he may be the best horse Yakteen has trained in his nine-year career, even if the trainer was reluctant to say so Sunday.

“I think we’ll find out a lot more on Wednesday,” Yakteen said. “He really woke up after that first race. To label him the most gifted horse I’ve ever had, I don’t know. I’m reflecting back on horses that had had a full campaign. He’s had two starts. If he runs the way I hope he will, he’ll fit the bill. He gives me the impression he has that quality.”

Owned by Mercedes Stable, Freakin Rocket is the most promising runner in Yakteen’s 20-horse stable and was a stable star during the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

Plagued by minor problems in training last year, Freakin Rocket returned to training earlier this year a different colt.

“He really grew a lot from 2 to 3,” Yakteen said. “He matured a lot.”

Freakin Rocket won his first two starts by a combined 15 1/4 lengths – a $75,000 claiming race for maidens over 6 1/2 furlongs by 9 3/4 lengths May 18, and a six-furlong allowance race by 5 1/2 lengths June 20. Mike Smith was aboard for the June 20 race and has the mount Wednesday.

Freakin Rocket’s early success is a credit to owners and breeders Ernie Moody and Mercedes Vila’s Mercedes Stable operation. Mercedes Stable bred Freakin Rocket, who is by Rock Hard Ten out of Freakin Streakin. Mercedes Stable raced the sire and dam.

Rock Hard Ten won five stakes, including the 2005 Santa Anita Handicap, and was second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Preakness Stakes. Freakin Streakin was second or third in seven stakes, including a runner-up finish in the 2005 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar.

Moody, whose Action Gaming company holds patents on video-poker technology, is based in Las Vegas and has a farm in Bonsall, Calif., where Freakin Rocket underwent his early training with farm trainer Richard Fuller.

Mercedes Stable is a partner in Game On Dude, a 6-year-old gelding who has won the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup twice each. Game On Dude is the leading contender for the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on Aug. 25, the richest race of the Del Mar meeting.

Bernie Schiappa, a partner with Mercedes Stable on Game On Dude, runs Mercedes Stable’s racing and breeding stable, which includes 28 mares. Schiappa said there are high expectations for Freakin Rocket’s start Wednesday.

“To have Mike Smith ride the horse in the Oceanside is a plus in itself,” Schiappa said. “He’s sitting on a big race. If he runs the way he can, he’ll be right there. He just cruises. You push a button.”

A change in distance and surface for Freakin Rocket on Wednesday is of some concern to his connections.

“That will be the big question,” Yakteen said. “He moves like a turf horse. He’s got some turf pedigree to him. Until you run them – he’s never run long or on grass – but he should enjoy the distance.”

In the past, Yakteen’s top horse was Bench Points, a sprinter who won three stakes in 2010 and 2011. His 4-year-old brother, Points Offthebench, won two optional claimers at Hollywood Park and is a candidate for the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar on July 28.

Born in Germany, Yakteen moved to the United States in 1982. He began training on his own in 2004, having worked as an assistant for Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Charlie Whittingham. Yakteen, who turns 49 on July 29, worked for Baffert on the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred circuits in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He worked for Whittingham from 1991-97 before rejoining Baffert’s team for a few years.

Yakteen is married to Millie Ball, a commentator on the HRTV television network. The couple has two boys, Sam, 7, and Ben, 5, who are more interested in karate than racing, Yakteen said. Family life allows Yakteen to step away from racing but not as often as he would like.

“That’s one thing this industry doesn’t allow – as much time as you’d like,” he said. “When the holidays come around, you’re working. That can niggle at you.”

A little more than halfway through 2013, Yakteen is on course for a career-best season. He has won 15 races and has stable earnings of $470,468. Since he began training in 2004, Yakteen’s personal bests in those categories occurred in 2005 – 18 wins and earnings of $801,754.

“I had an atrocious start of the year,” Yakteen said. “Thank God, things started to pick up.”

Freakin Rocket has been a big part of that and may have a major role in the stable’s success at Del Mar this summer.