Updated on 09/15/2011 2:06PM

Harty 2-year-olds try Plan B


ARCADIA, Calif. - Until Sept. 11, trainer Eoin Harty planned to start two contenders in Grade 1 races Sept. 16 at Belmont Park - Imperial Gesture in the Matron and Essence of Dubai in the Futurity. But when those two races for 2-year-olds were canceled because of the terrorist attacks, he drafted a new campaign.

Imperial Gesture, a romping maiden winner at Saratoga on Aug. 24, will face Habibti in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita. Essence of Dubai is the stronger half of Harty's two-horse entry in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes on Saturday, a race headed by Came Home.

Imperial Gesture, by Langfuhr, worked five furlongs Tuesday in 59 seconds.

"She worked good, and I don't think the distance [one mile] will be a problem," Harty said.

The "problem" for Harty and Imperial Gesture is Habibti, the unbeaten winner of the Del Mar Debutante. Others expected to run in the Oak Leaf are Fairplex Stakes winner Roaring Blaze; Farda Amiga, who won her only start on Sept. 3 at Del Mar in a one-mile turf race; and Ayanna, an impressive maiden sprint winner Aug. 25 at Del Mar.

Harty's Norfolk entry is Essence of Dubai, who washed out and ran third in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, and Ibn Al Haitham, a maiden with two-turn experience. Essence of Dubai won a fast maiden race July 8 at Hollywood Park before his Best Pal debacle.

"Basically, it's up to him to mature," Harty said. "He got unfocused out there in a three-horse field."

Meanwhile, Ibn Al Haitham, according to Harty, "has the experience to go two turns. I don't think it's going to be a big

field, so I'm taking a shot."

Harty said Sunray Spirit, who earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure winning a Del Mar maiden race Aug. 19, will run in the Grade 3 Cowdin on Oct. 7 at Belmont.

Sorrento winner Tempera was scheduled to work Wednesday and will train up to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

A coast-to-coast operation

Both Officer and Habibti are owned by Thoroughbred Corp. and trained by Bob Baffert. However, Officer and Habibti are going separate ways. While Officer points for the Champagne on Oct. 6 at Belmont, Habibti will remain in California for the Oak Leaf on Sunday. Why not send both to New York?

"She [Habibti] needs the extra week [before the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup]," Baffert said. "She's a light filly, and [the Frizette] is more of a speed deal. Two turns is better."

Habibti has raced only twice, but will enter the Oak Leaf as an overwhelming favorite.

Her Tuesday workout in 58.80 seconds was the fastest of 35 works at the distance. "She's ready," Baffert said. He also worked Ecstatic seven furlongs in 1:24.20 (best of the morning). Ecstatic's next start will be Oct. 6 in the Grade 2 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

Mullins winning races at lofty clip

High-percentage trainer Jeff Mullins, 38, usually returns to Arizona after the Los Angeles County Fair meet at Fairplex, but not this year. Mullins, who led the Fairplex standings with 11 wins, is setting up shop full time in Southern California.

"We just felt it was time to make a change. The Arizona [situation] is kind of shaky and we've done well enough this year that we should do all right,"

said Mullins, who won the Fairplex title for the second time. He tied for the title in 1998 with six wins.

Among Mullins's 11 wins this year were seven horses making their first or second start off the claim.

Mullins's career record is 478 wins from 2,165 starters (22 percent), but his win rate has skyrocketed the past two seasons. Since the start of 2000, Mullins has won with more than 30 percent of his starters (159-for-528).

Kona Gold shines in workout

Kona Gold worked five furlongs at daybreak Tuesday morning, getting the distance in 1:00. "[Rider] Alex [Solis] hit it right on the head. It was just what we wanted," trainer Bruce Headley said.

Kona Gold will follow the same routine that led to his Breeders' Cup Sprint win last year - a final prep in the Ancient Title Handicap, on Oct. 6. This will be the fourth straight year Kona Gold has raced in the Ancient Title and Breeders' Cup, and the seventh straight year Headley has started a horse in the Ancient Title. The results: Lakota Brave was favored in 1995 and 1997, and won the race in 1996 at odds of 7-2. Kona Gold finished fifth in 1998, second in 1999, and first last year.

The Ancient Title has been upgraded to Grade 1 status this year, but the field is coming up shallow. Lexicon is the only other runner known to be pointing for the race.

Kona Gold must carry the weekend for Headley, whose barn took a big hit early this week.

Who Loves Aleyna, runner-up in the Del Mar Debutante and the biggest threat to Habibti in the Oak Leaf, fractured her left shin in a workout Sunday and will be out for a year. "It just goes to show, you can't be too careful," Headley said. "I only ran her once at Del Mar. You live with these disappointments every day."

The good news is that Who Loves Aleyna will recover. "Oh yeah, she'll come back," Headley said. Make her an early contender for the 2003 La Canada Series for 4-year-old fillies.

Spook Express trainer opts out

The odds on Tranquility Lake in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes on Sunday just dropped hard. A 6-year-old, she will be favored to become the first two-time winner of the Yellow Ribbon.

Her task got easier Tuesday when trainer Tom Skiffington informed the Oak Tree racing office that multiple graded stakes winner Spook Express will not make the trip west and will run instead at Keeneland. The Yellow Ribbon, at 1 1/4 miles on turf, is expected to include Tranquility Lake, Janet, The Seven Seas, Kalatiara, Nepenthe, and Al Desima.

*The two highweights for the Grade 2 Lady's Secret Handicap on Saturday are not expected to run - 122-pound highweight Tranquility Lake, and 121-pound Gourmet Girl. The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares is expected to attract a small field of Queenie Belle and Lovellon, who will be starting highweights at 116 pounds, and Letter of Intent at 113 and Tamara Princess at 113.

*A competitive field, headed by White Heart and Senure, is expected to go in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap on Sunday. Probable starters include Kudos, Cagney, Kerrygold, and Monsajem.