12/03/2008 12:00AM

Giant Oak has a future on dirt


Illinois-based trainer Chris Block has in recent years made a habit of transferring turf horses to Fair Grounds-based trainers for the winter. Block basically remains year-round in Chicago, and come November, he has freely sent south grass horses in his care not in need of a winter freshening.

But with one horse, at least, this winter will be different. First off, the 2-year-old colt Giant Oak showed he was more than merely a turf horse with a close second last Saturday in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. And secondly, when Giant Oak gets around to running at the Fair Grounds meet, Block still will be listed as his trainer - not surprising, since mentioning Giant Oak in the same sentence with Kentucky Derby would not be entirely out of bounds.

Giant Oak was beaten a neck in the KJC, and that after making a five-wide move around the far turn of the 1 1/16-mile race. Moreover, the KJC marked the dirt debut for a colt who had won big on Arlington turf and Polytrack before suffering through an abysmal trip in the Bourbon Stakes on Oct. 5 over Keeneland's grass course. Soon afterward, Giant Oak was shipped to Churchill for dirt training, and Giant Oak gave his connections positive morning signals.

"The horse trained very well down at Churchill from the first day we got him over there," Block said. "There was a big question if he was going to run on the dirt, but we had nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying. Had he not fired, I'd just have said, 'We got us a grass horse, we know that now.' We could've lived with that."

Giant Oak remained in Kentucky as of Wednesday, but he soon will head to New Orleans. December will be a light month, and Block said he will tentatively point Giant Oak to the Risen Star Stakes in February.

Giant Oak will be stabled in the barn of Neil Pessin. Drew Coontz, a Block employee who oversaw Giant Oak's KJC preparation in Kentucky, will be with the colt "day and night," Block said.

"We're really not changing anything," said Block. "It's been the same situation since he left Keeneland in October. I'll be going down whenever the horse breezes."

Giant Oak, a grand-looking Illinois-bred by Giant's Causeway, was bred and is owned by Chicagoans Rudy and Virginia Tarra.

Sok Sok targets Sunshine Millions again

When Sok Sok scored a blowout victory in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds on Dec. 22, 2007, trainer Steve Asmussen began pointing him to the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash. Well, Sok Sok has a good chance to make it into the Sunshine Millions as a major player - it's just that his connections had to wait an extra year.

Not long after the Sugar Bowl win, Sok Sok "popped a curb," Asmussen said, and the injury to the horse's hock required more time to properly heal than anyone anticipated.

"It's usually like shins - two or three months," Asmussen said. "We gave him the time, but we just weren't completely pleased when we started back with him. Once we basically had missed everything [over the summer], we decided to just target the Fair Grounds."

Sok Sok made his first start in nearly a year in the Thanksgiving Handicap, and looked just as sharp as his pre-layoff self. He won by more than three lengths, and displayed a flashy finishing kick while running a fast six furlongs in 1:09.98.

"He's a nice horse," said Asmussen. "That was a great race off an 11-month layoff."

So, Sok Sok, a Florida-bred, can target the 2009 Sunshine Millions. His is one of the races at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24.

My Baby Baby heads Pago Hop

You can almost hear the murmuring: "Black type, black type, black type." Yes, Saturday's $60,000 Pago Hop Stakes represents one of the season's last black-type opportunities in a race restricted to 3-year-old fillies. The Pago Hop, scheduled for about one mile on grass, was drawn on Monday, and got nine entries.

Topping the field is My Baby Baby, who finished second of 11 about a month ago in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill. Also entered was the Mrs. Revere third-place finisher, Scolara, as well as Rose of Killarney, a four-length turf allowance winner on Nov. 16 at Fair Grounds.