07/16/2010 12:58PM

Good day to win a Hollywood turf stakes


PHOENIX – The turf distance division out West is in a state of flux, and Sunday’s closing-day Grade 3 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park at 1 1/2 miles gives someone a chance to step up.

There was a time, albeit two years ago or so, that Buenos Dias seemed on his way. By an Arc winner (Peintre Celebre) out of a mare who was by an Arc winner (Rainbow Quest) there was no doubt he was bred to excel going long. He ran fifth in the Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris vs. some tough company when he was 3 years old in 2008, and the foundation appeared to be laid.

He was brought to the U.S. in the spring of 2009 and moved to the care of Ron McAnally, he of John Henry fame and who has handled so many other top-class stars, including turf distance horses. But things never quite seemed to come together on this side of the Atlantic for Buenos Dias. In seven starts in 2009 he flashed talent, but never rang the bell. Then came four months off, a dull return run at Santa Anita this April 17, and another two months on the bench. Things appeared to be going south.

But then a funny thing happened. McAnally brought him back in an optional claimer at Hollywood June 10 going 1 1/2 miles. Well, the layoff and distance worked. The horse bided his time and powered home to easily win over the likes of Romp and Falcon Rock, who previously had been seen giving game chase to the West’s top turf distance horse, the now-resting Bourbon Bay.

Sometimes it takes these Europeans a while to get acclimated to new surroundings, and maybe that’s what happened here. Now, Buenos Dias, at age 5, looks like the quality horse he appeared to be when he first came to this country. He’s proven on this course and at this trip, and maybe he can take this occasion Sunday to stamp himself a potential player in the turf distance game out West.

Chicken and feathers

In case you needed a reminder how fortunes can change so suddenly, all you need do is look at Ron Ellis. Just two weeks ago he was standing on top of the Hollywood scene, with Rail Trip standing with the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup seemingly at his mercy and Golden Itiz ready to dive into the deep end of the pool and make a splash in the Grade 2 Swaps.

Well, we all know what’s happened since: Rail Trip finished second in the Gold Cup and was transferred out of the Ellis barn, and Golden Itiz was not entered for the Swaps.

Rail Trip seemed to have every chance with a furlong remaining but couldn’t fend off Awesome Gem in the Gold Cup. So, now the horse many of us were thinking a legitimate threat to top elder males Quality Road and Blame has some work to do to put a shine back on his reputation.

Just days after the race, Rail Trip was on a plane, moving to the barn of Rick Dutrow back East as his connections look to see if he can handle the dirt. That’s something they want to find out before developing a plan that gets him to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

As for Golden Itiz, after three straight nice wins, including the Grade 3 Affirmed, he looked ready to put his name among the 3-year-old elite in the Swaps. But he reportedly wasn’t training to Ellis’s liking, so his date in the Swaps was scrapped.

Just a reminder how things can change so quickly in this game.

Might as well shoot high

Zenyatta’s connections have been hemming and hawing over whether to race Zenyatta over Del Mar’s Polytrack surface in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch there, a race she just got up to win last year.

But if they do decide to run her at Del Mar, why waste a bullet in the Clement L. Hirsch? She would gain little or nothing by winning that again and in fact has more to lose. Why not instead point for the obvious big plum – the Grade 1 Pacific Classic? Not only is the distance in her wheelhouse (1 1/4 miles) but a win there over males again would give her a significant leg up on her Horse of the Year rivals.

With Rail Trip having been sent East, her main danger won’t be in the race.

Provided she’s thriving and handling the Del Mar track, the Pacific Classic is the right spot. There’s a ton of upside here, including a chance to thumb her nose at the naysayers who have again criticized her conservative campaign.