08/26/2008 11:00PM

Escalon headed to Futurity

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The depth of Joseph LaCombe's racing stable will be evident in the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity next Wednesday.

LaCombe owns Azul Leon, who was promoted from second to first via disqualification in the Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 10, and Escalon, an exciting maiden race winner on Aug. 1. As of Wednesday, Escalon was expected to start in the Del Mar Futurity, while Azul Leon may be held out of that race in favor of Norfolk Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on Sept. 28, according to LaCombe's son, Joe.

Doug O'Neill trains both colts. Escalon beat maidens by two lengths in a six-furlong race on Aug. 1, drawing off in the final furlong. For Joe LaCombe, the style of the win justifies a start in the Del Mar Futurity.

"He ran great the first time out," LaCombe said. "He came from off the pace and ran really well. Anytime you see a first-time starter run like that you have to be excited."

Azul Leon is unbeaten in three starts. He finished a nose behind Futurity hopeful Kelly Leak in the Best Pal Stakes, and was promoted to first after Kelly Leak was ruled to have caused interference. The Best Pal Stakes was Azul Leon's second stakes win, preceded by the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 5. After that race, LaCombe and O'Neill said that Azul Leon may have only one one start at Del Mar. They may stick to that plan.

"If he doesn't run in the Futurity, he'll go for the Norfolk," LaCombe said. "He's doing so well."

LaCombe, a frequent visitor to trainer Doug O'Neill's stable this summer on behalf of his father, pegged Azul Leon's chances of starting in the Del Mar Futurity as "50-50."

Escalon worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 on Wednesday. Another O'Neill-trained hopeful, S.S. Stone, worked five furlongs in 1:01.20. Owned by Robert LaPenta, S.S. Stone finished eighth in the Best Pal Stakes in his stakes debut.

The Del Mar Futurity has 11 probable starters, including Arashi Cat, Believe in Hope, Blazing Spirit, Coronet of a Baron, Kelly Leak, Midshipman, Southern Exchange, and Wild Wild Posse.

Monday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante for 2-year-old fillies over seven furlongs has 10 probable starters, led by Evita Argentina, the winner of the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 6, and Empressive lady, a flashy maiden race winner here on July 27.

The other hopefuls are Emmy Darling, Montana Fields, Palacio de Amor, Saucey Evening, Stardom Bound, Trifecta King, and Turtle Creek Babe.

Mast Track's next uncertain

Mast Track, third in the Pacific Classic last Sunday, is bound for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, owner-trainer Bobby Frankel said. Frankel said it was unclear whether Mast Track would have another start before the BC Classic, in a race such as the $500,000 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.

In the Pacific Classic, Mast Track finished 2o1/2 lengths behind race winner Go Between after racing in fourth for much of the 1 1/4-mile race. The Pacific Classic was Mast Track's first start since winning the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 28.

"I thought he ran good," Frankel said. "He was a little wide. He was competitive."

Frankel said "I haven't made up mind yet" on whether Mast Track would start in the Goodwood.

Zappa, who finished a troubled fourth in the Pacific Classic, has the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Dirt Marathon over 1 1/2 miles on the main track on Oct. 25 as a long-term goal, trainer John Sadler said.

In the Pacific Classic, Zappa finished 3 1/4 lengths behind Go Between, but was in traffic on the turn and in early stretch. Sadler said the Goodwood or the $125,000 Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational at Fairplex Park on Sept. 21 are possible preps for Zappa.

Awesome Gem, a disappointing seventh as the 4-1 second choice in the Pacific Classic, could return in the Goodwood, although trainer Craig Dollase said no plans have been finalized.

Chocolate Candy deserves to be favorite

Following sixth-place finishes in his first two starts, Chocolate Candy will be favored to win a one-mile maiden race for 2-year-olds on Friday.

"If he doesn't win that race, I'll be disappointed," said Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "We've been waiting for distance."

Chocolate Candy was beaten 2 3/4 lengths in a six-furlong maiden race on July 26. By Candy Ride, Chocolate Candy could run in the Norfolk Stakes if he wins on Friday.

Chocolate Candy is owned by the Craig Family Trust, and was bred by Sid and Jenny Craig. Sid Craig died earlier this summer after a lengthy illness.

Yankee Bravo passing on Del Mar Derby

Yankee Bravo, unraced since finishing 10th in the Preakness Stakes on May 17, was not entered for Sunday's $350,000 Del Mar Derby after trainer Paddy Gallagher decided the colt was not ready.

Yankee Bravo worked five furlongs in 59.20 seconds on Tuesday, but jockey Alex Solis told Gallagher he was not pleased with the way the colt finished. "Alex thought galloping out he was getting a little tired," Gallagher said.

"I missed a bit of time with him. He had a little thing with his feet."

Gallagher said that Yankee Bravo will be pointed for the $150,000 Oak Tree Derby over 1o1/8 miles on turf Oct. 25.

The Del Mar Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, has drawn a field of nine, including Sky Cape, the winner of the La Jolla Handicap on Aug. 9, and Tiz West, the winner of the Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park in June who finished 10th in the La Jolla.

Owners host U.S. Marines

Pablo Suarez, who co-owned Thor's Echo, the 2006 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter, is among a group of Del Mar horse owners, including Bob Bone and Scott Guenther, who will be hosting a group of United States Marines at the track on Monday.

Suarez said about 150 Marines will attend. He is seeking additional owners to make donations to give to the Marines as they leave the track. "Not gambling money," he said in an email, but a cash gift. He is hoping to raise $30,000, or $200 per Marine.

According to Suarez, donations can be left with Bridget Crawford, the paymaster of purses at Del Mar. Suarez said he can be reached at 661-904-8185.

o Jockey Aaron Gryder took off his mounts Wednesday through Friday because of a mild concussion suffered when he was unseated from a horse during training hours, according to his agent, Craig O'Bryan.

Gryder is expected to ride on Saturday, O'Bryan said. Through Monday, Gryder has won 9 races from 91 mounts at this meeting, and was ranked 14th in the standings.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman