Updated on 09/17/2011 12:08PM

Got Koko, reloaded, tries Azeri

Benoit & Associates
Got Koko faces Horse of the Year Azeri for the first time in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The plain paper notebook on trainer Bruce Headley's stable desk holds many of the workings of the barn. One page may include a set list for the morning, another notes that Headley has made to himself.

When Headley leafs back several pages, there is a homemade calendar from April to August of this year, showing in detail Headley's exercise plans for Got Koko, who starts in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

Since she finished fourth in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March, ending a three-race winning streak, Got Koko has been pointed for the Grade 2 Hirsch. Shortly after Got Koko resumed serious training in April, Headley sat down and wrote out the ideal training schedule for the coming months. With rain not a concern, Headley built a schedule for Got Koko similar to the one that had worked in past seasons when the star sprinter Kona Gold launched comebacks.

This weekend, Headley's plan and Got Koko's ability will be tested. She is the second choice in the Hirsch, and faces Horse of the Year Azeri for the first time.

"She's running with the monster mare," Headley said.

Got Koko is one of four challengers trying Azeri. The others are Angel Gift, Sister Girl Blues, Tropical Blossom, all of whom will be longshots.

If Azeri's 10-race winning streak is interrupted, some observers believe that Got Koko is the most likely spoiler. She swept the La Canada Series last winter, winning the La Brea Stakes over seven furlongs, the El Encino Stakes over 1 1/16 miles, and the La Canada Stakes over 1 1/8 miles in a span of six weeks. Her win in the El Encino, despite a wide trip, still impresses Headley.

"I thought that was one of the best races of any horse I've ever run," he said. "Usually, when they're wide like that with that type of horses, they don't win."

The tradeoff may have come in the Santa Margarita, her stakes debut against older mares. Got Koko never rallied from her customary position as a stalker and was beaten 10 lengths by Starrer, who was subsequently retired.

"The series was a little close and she might have been a little drained," Headley said.

After the Santa Margarita, Got Koko remained with Headley at Santa Anita before shipping to Del Mar in mid-July.

"I kept her in light training for six weeks," he said. "Then I made my map and got serious."

So far, the plan has worked. Headley announced Got Koko ready after she worked five furlongs in 1:00 on Tuesday. Whether she is ready for Azeri will not be known until Sunday.

Krone seizes lead in standings

Julie Krone rode four winners on Monday to take the lead in the jockey standings with 12 wins, one more than Patrick Valenzuela and Mike Smith. Victor Espinoza and Alex Solis have 10 wins, followed by Corey Nakatani and Kent Desormeaux (nine each).

Smith did not ride on Monday. He was in Saratoga to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Krone's most impressive winner was Solar Echo, a filly trained by Ron McAnally, who won an optional claimer over a mile on turf in the fourth race.

Krone also won the second race with Lest We Forget ($7.80), the third race with Richard the First ($31.60), and the sixth with Victory Encounter ($7.80).

The four-bagger was Krone's best day since she returned to riding last November after a break of 3 1/2 years. Her only loss Monday was in the seventh race aboard Silver Yen, who finished fourth.

"A couple of them were literally hang-ons and it was quite fun," she said. "It ended up being a good day. Some of the horses were picked on top and that was nice."

Solar Echo overcame a wicked speed duel to win, fighting with Sharpbill through early fractions of 21.43 and 44.03 seconds. On the backstretch, Krone moved Solar Echo well off the rail but she was still dueling for the lead with Sharpbill.

"When I brought her back to the inside, she took off," Krone said.

The two were inseparable around the final turn. It was not until the final furlong that Solar Echo pulled away to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Final Discount.

"Every furlong I kept asking, how much does she have left," Krone said.

Sharpbill faded to finish fourth.

Solar Echo, a 3-year-old filly owned by Janis Whitham, may reappear in the $75,000 Torrey Pines Stakes over a mile on the main track on Sept. 7. After finishing second in her career debut last December, Solar Echo has won three consecutive races.

Sarava expected to leave hospital

Sarava is expected to be shipped from an equine hospital in Bonsall, Calif., to a local farm later this week after undergoing emergency surgery last week for a twisted colon, said Sarava's trainer, Bob Baffert.

The winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes, Sarava was stricken late on July 26, hours after he finished sixth in an allowance race. The allowance race was Sarava's first start in nearly 14 months.

Baffert said that Sarava's condition is improving and that the 4-year-old will spend a month on a local farm. Sarava is expected to resume training this fall. "He should be able to make it back," Baffert said.

The setback has eliminated Sarava from consideration for the Breeders' Cup Classic in October.

Golden Nepi dies after surgery

Golden Nepi, the winner of the Italian 1000 Guineas who finished sixth in the American Oaks in her U.S. debut at Hollywood Park last month, died last week after undergoing surgery to have bone chips removed from her knees, trainer Laura de Seroux said.

After the surgery, Golden Nepi was in a recovery room when she stopped breathing, de Seroux said. A necropsy revealed that her lungs had filled with fluid, de Seroux said.

"It was devastating for the owners," she said.

Owned by Scuderia Golden Horse, Golden Nepi won 3 of 12 starts and $269,863. All three of her victories came in stakes. In her final start in Europe, she finished fifth in the Italian Oaks as the favorite.

In the American Oaks, Golden Nepi closed from 12th on the backstretch to finish 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Dimitrova.

Jockey Garcia disqualified, twice

Jockey Matt Garcia was involved in two disqualifications on Monday.

In the fifth race, Garcia finished third aboard Real Big Spender in a sprint for maiden claimers, and was disqualified and placed fifth for causing interference in the stretch.

In the eighth race, Garcia finished first aboard Crash McGoon, but was disqualified and placed seventh for causing interference in the first turn of a one-mile race for maiden claimers.

He was scheduled to meet with track stewards on Wednesday and is likely to face a suspension.