09/30/2009 11:00PM

DRF Weekend: Oak Tree roundup



Doug O'Neill

Warm-and-cold trainer Doug O'Neill was hotter than the 100-degree weather during closing week of the Los Angeles County Fair. After a 4-for-67 slog that began at Del Mar, O'Neill rolled the final week of the Fair, winning with 13 of his final 42 starters.

The total at the finish was 16 wins, double second-ranked Cliff Sise, who had eight wins. O'Neill's winners produced a flat-bet profit, thanks to the $43.20 upset by the 3-year-old claimer Elegant Cad.

O'Neill was set up perfectly for Fairplex, where most of his winners were maiden-claimers and cheap-level claimers. O'Neill has moved up to fifth on the all-time Fairplex training list (85 wins); the meet title was his sixth in the last eight years at Fairplex.

Early indications for Oak Tree are that O'Neill will stay active. He entered in 10 of the first 25 races. But the going is about to get tougher, and it remains to be seen if O'Neill has better stock that fits the Oak Tree condition book and can continue his recent hot streak.

Cliff Sise deserves a "Who's Hot" honorable mention for his 8-for-18 meet, notable for seven consecutive winners in a stretch that started with a four-bagger Sept. 12. Smooth Performer won the $50,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes and enters the California Cup Matron on Saturday at Santa Anita with a fighting chance. The filly she crushed in the Johnston - Made for Magic - returned to win the Las Madrinas Handicap, a $100,000 race until purse cuts this year forced a trim to $50,000.

Martin Pedroza

The only down note at Fairplex Park for all-time leading jockey Martin Pedroza was a five-day suspension he received for careless riding in race 8 on Sept. 27. That incident, in which a rider went down, does not discolor the 45-for-136 meet that gave Pedroza his 11th consecutive Fairplex riding title.

Pedroza won the first race of the 15-day meet back on Sept. 10 and at least one race a day every day thereafter. He was in danger of shooting a blank on closing day, Sept. 28, but in the final race of the 2009 season Pedroza guided Sise-trained firster Romance Writer to victory.

Pedroza also was inducted Sunday into the Fairplex Hall of Fame. It was a fitting honor for the all-time leading rider at Fairplex (606 wins). Pedroza missed a big chunk of the early part of the season with a fractured pelvis, and at age 44 he was never guaranteed to return to full strength.


It was not such a good meet for Kyle Kaenel. The young rider was finally breaking out of a long slump when he went down in the aforementioned Sept. 27 spill. He was 2 for 70 at Fairplex when he went down with injuries that will keep him sidelined for an indefinite time. Kayla Stra also had a tough go at the Fair, 0 for 45.

The Fairplex meet did not showcase any jockeys that would be considered breakouts. Christian Santiago Reyes (20) and Alonso Quinonez (19) won a lot of races, yet both promising young riders left the impression they have much to learn.


With the Oak Tree meet barely under way for the inaugural edition of DRF Weekend, it makes track-trend observations a little tricky. One trend worth mention is a recent change in weather. Temperatures were in the 100s most of last week, and the sloggy Santa Anita track produced slow times in early morning training hours.

In cooler weather, track superintendent Richard Tedesco may have an easier time maintaining consistency. The all-weather tracks in Southern California are difficult to manage, more so during extreme weather.

Tedesco expects Pro-Ride to play like fall 2008, which means he has more confidence than many handicappers. A year ago when it was first installed, Pro-Ride was favorable to off-the-pace runners early in the fall meet. Now that the track is a year older, it remains to be seen whether the closers-friendly trend will continue.


Lookin at Lucky won two graded sprint stakes on Polytrack at Del Mar. Sunday at Santa Anita, he will try to win a graded stakes around two turns when he stretches to 1 1/16 miles on Pro-Ride. The Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies also will be run Sunday; the race lost its favorite when division leader Mi Sueno broke down Tuesday morning at Hollywood Park.

Del Mar Futurity winner Lookin at Lucky will try to stay unbeaten when he makes his fourth career start in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes.

Lookin at Lucky will face upstart maiden winners Dave in Dixie, Privilaged, and Pulsion, along with California-bred stakes winner John Scott. Based on his three professional wins, a pedigree to stay two turns, and brimming confidence from trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Garrett Gomez, Lookin at Lucky should win the Norfolk.

The injury to Mi Sueno throws the Oak Leaf into the corner of Pure Class or Debutante runner-up Blind Luck. Pure Class is one of only two nominees with a route victory under her belt. She won a Del Mar maiden race by five lengths and enters fall on a decided upward trend. Softly Singing looked good winning a sprint and is bred to run long.

The action Oct. 10-11 includes six graded stakes. The Oct. 10 card features Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret, Mine that Bird in the Grade 1 Goodwood, and Magical Fantasy in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon. The Oct. 11 card includes two modest Grade 1's - the Ancient Title for sprinters (Zensational does not run) and Clement Hirsch at

1 1/4 miles on turf.


Dave in Dixie is asked a tall order if he runs Sunday in the Grade 1 Norfolk, his second career start and first around two turns. But the 2-year-old looked good Sept. 27 in a team workout with older Grade 1-winning mare Black Mamba. Joel Rosario worked Dave in Dixie, who settled just off Black Mamba's flank, rallied to her side into the lane, and inched clear late in 1:27.

Believe it or not, Lava Man worked three furlongs Sept. 23 at Hollywood. Lava Man, an 8-year-old gelding who retired a year ago, has been rejuvenated through an innovative stem-cell procedure and is back in training. Good luck with that. Lava Man was timed in 36 seconds, best of 24 works at the distance. Trainer Doug O'Neill expects Lava Man to return this fall at Hollywood Park. The pie is in the sky.


Jackpots do not usually occur in the show pool, unless you catch the phantom plunger on a bad day. It happened Sept. 25 at Fairplex, in a half-mile race that on paper looked formful. Favorites dominated half-mile races at the Fair, winning almost 50 percent (13 for 28), and Brilliant Response seemed a slam dunk to win a $25,000 maiden claimer (race 4).

Brilliant Response had speed, faced better all summer, and had all-time leading Fairplex jockey Martin Pedroza. The plunger thought he was a lock to hit the board and bet accordingly. It is a 5 percent profit if the horse finishes first, second, or third. The minimum $2 show payoff in California is $2.10.

Brilliant Response attracted $74,595 from a total show pool of $80,598. One skeptic in the press box would have none of it and bet all seven other starters to show. Maybe something would happen. There are a million ways to lose a race, and the most the skeptic could lose was $10 (two of the show bets would be winners).

It got scary right away. Breaking from the rail post, Brilliant Response bobbled leaving the gate and lost position. Pedroza rushed him inside, then took up sharply and checked into the turn. It was a brutal trip. He fell back to fourth and stayed there. He finished off the board at 1-5, creating lopsided show payoffs on the 1-2-3 finishers.

The show payoffs were $20.40, $46.80, and $70.80. For the skeptical show bettor, it was a $138 return for risking just $10. And it was the best bet of closing week at Fairplex Park.



Trainer: Mike Harrington

Last race: Sept. 20, 10th, Fairplex Park

Finish: 1st by 3

Harrington's success usually is based on

2-year-olds sired by Swiss Yodeler, but his best colt of 2009 is by Roman Ruler. A five-start maiden going into the $115,000 Barretts Juvenile, Seattle Ruler took off blinkers, relaxed off the pace for the first time, and drew off late while earning a solid 81 Beyer Speed Figure. It would be a reach stretching out in the Grade 1 Norfolk, and he may prefer dirt, but Seattle Ruler enters autumn on an improving pattern.


Trainer: Cliff Sise

Last race: Sept. 12, 3rd, Fairplex Park

Finish: 1st by 5

Although she had nothing behind her winning her sprint debut, the future is bright for this Thunder Gulch filly. She sat comfortably in third and ran away late like she wants more ground. Her true ability remains unknown (she earned a low 58 Beyer), but she should improve as the distances increase. If she shows up in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf, she could hit the board at a big price.


Trainer: Patrick Biancone

Last race: Sept. 5, 6th, Del Mar

Finish: 1st by 1

There was never a doubt that this son of Include would be a better 3-year-old, but he came around quickly in spring and his 2-year-old campaign is a bonus. Following two good sprints, he put it all together to win the only main-track route for 2-year-old maiden colts at Del Mar. He lagged off the pace, rallied wide, and won going away while looking for more ground. He is scheduled for the two-turn, Grade 1 Norfolk and will be finishing.


Trainer: Triphon Dahl

Last race: Sept. 26, 11th, Fairplex

Finish: 2nd by 3/4

This stakes winner may have distance limitations, but there was nothing wrong with his runner-up try in the three-turn Pomona Derby. Stretching out from a big front-running sprint win, he was rated, fought his jockey while hard-held, challenged for the lead into the lane, and then got collared by a perfect-trip closer while finishing more than two lengths clear of third. A good California-bred 3-year-old, he will be at his best in a sprint.