10/13/2010 2:13PM

Gallant Gent, Nextdoorneighboor audition for bigger roles

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The appearances of Gallant Gent and Nextdoorneighbor in optional claiming races at Hollywood Park on Friday are as much about the future as they are immediate success.

Both colts have the potential to be a factor in important races in coming months, particularly at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting that begins in late December.

Gallant Gent, a 3-year-old gelding trained by Craig Lewis for a partnership, starts in a second-level optional $62,500 claimer over six furlongs on turf, the fourth race on a program that begins at 1 p.m. Pacific. The sprint race will be Gallant Gent’s first start on turf since a third-place finish in the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 21 and ends a streak of eight consecutive stakes appearances in the last 13 months.

“We claimed him for $40,000 and he’s banged out more than six figures,” Lewis said. “He will sprint but we’re against older horses for the first time and that’s the equation that no one has the answer to.”

In the future, Lewis is considering turf sprints at Santa Anita for Gallant Gent, who is winless in four starts this year.

“I’ve wanted to try him on the hillside,” Lewis said. “This isn’t that, but it’s the next closest thing. He appears to love the grass. He’s always game. We’ve had him in some tough spots.”

Friday’s race should be easier. Gallant Gent is the only horse in a field of 10 with a stakes-placing this year.

Nextdoorneighbor was briefly on the Santa Anita Derby trail this year until two bouts with illness following a seventh-place finish in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in March led to a six-month layoff.

Trained by Mike Machowsky for Amerman Racing, Nexdoorneighbor finished a troubled fifth in a six-furlong optional claimer at Del Mar on Sept. 4, a race that was too short, Machowsky said. Friday, Nextdoorneighbor is part of a field of nine in a first-level optional $40,000 claimer over 1 1/16 miles on the main track (race 5).

“He’s trained well since the comeback at Del Mar,” Machowsky said. “He broke a little slow that day and was wide the whole way. Routing is what he wants to do.”

Nextdoorneighbor must beat Spring Forth, a promising third in a one-mile turf race at Del Mar on Sept. 4. Both colts are candidates for Santa Anita’s Strub series for 4-year-olds of 2011 this winter.