11/29/2009 12:00AM

Familiar rivals stage reunion out West

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Take the Points comes into the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby off back-to-back Grade 1 victories.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The California colt Battle of Hastings won two Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds in Virginia during the summer, the Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby.

This weekend, a couple of those Eastern horses that he beat - Take the Points and Straight Story - have been sent to California in an attempt to plunder Sunday's $300,000 Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park.

Those three colts, along with the rapidly improving local gelding The Usual Q.T., figure to dominate the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, which is run over 1 1/4 miles on turf and is the last major distance race for the age group this year.

Bettors will have a tough time sorting through the quartet, as well as several others in the field of 12. The Hollywood Derby is the feature race on a 10-race program that includes the $100,000 Miesque Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The card offers a $350,000-guaranteed pick six pool.

Take the Points may have been fourth and third behind Battle of Hastings in the Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby, but has been brilliant since, winning two Grade 1 races. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Take the Points won the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in August, edging Hollywood Derby entrant Black Bear Island, and the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 10, outfinishing Straight Story.

Back in the spring, Take the Points was a Triple Crown hopeful, but he has thrived on turf in the second half of 2009.

"The Secretariat was a turning point for him," Pletcher said. "He learned to polish off and finish a race. Physically, he's doing super. He's matured and come into himself."

Battle of Hastings is winless in three starts since beating Straight Story by a nose in the Virginia Derby on July 18. Since then, Battle of Hastings has had two tough losses - a nose defeat to Rendezvous in the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 6 and a fast-finishing second by a head to The Usual Q.T. in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby on Nov. 7. In between, he was fourth in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland in October on soft turf.

Battle of Hastings will have a new jockey for the Hollywood Derby. Garrett Gomez replaces Tyler Baze, who is out until Christmastime after undergoing hand surgery earlier this month. Gomez worked Battle of Hastings during the summer, trainer Jeff Mullins said, and the rider switch does concern the trainer.

"You like to have the rider on that knows him the best," he said. "Garrett worked him one other time at Del Mar. As far as the horse goes, he's doing great. He hasn't really changed much."

The Hollywood Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles should suit Battle of Hastings. The Oak Tree Derby trip of 1 1/8 miles may have been short of his best distance.

"He was coming," Mullins said. "He just didn't get rolling until it was too late."

The Usual Q.T. figures to be near the front, most likely stalking Acclimation, who set the pace in the Oak Tree Derby but faded to finish seventh. Straight Story, seeking his first stakes win, will not be far from the pace. He has been second in four stakes this year with that style.

Other notable runners include Black Bear Island, who won the Group 2 Dante Stakes in England in May; Al Khali, who won the Saranac Stakes at Saratoga in September; Calder Derby winner Sal the Barber; La Jolla Handicap winner Meteore; and the stakes-placed runners Rescue Squad and Sir Al. Blazing Spirit will be a longshot.

The Hollywood Derby distance will be a test for The Usual Q.T., who has won four consecutive races beginning with a maiden race for statebreds at Del Mar in the summer. The Usual Q.T. was 10-1 in the Oak Tree Derby and may be somewhat overlooked in the Hollywood Derby.

"Nobody seems to pick him too much," trainer Jim Cassidy said. "What the hell has this colt done wrong?

"I think he looks better for this race than he did for the Oak Tree Derby. His coat has come back really well."