08/03/2009 11:00PM

Harty does some head-scratching

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Benoit & Associates
Informed (left) wins the San Diego Handicap, guaranteeing himself a berth in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Eoin Harty and jockey Aaron Gryder have searched high and low, but can't come up with a reason for why Well Armed threw in such a stinker on Sunday in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. Well Armed finished last as the 3-5 favorite in his first start since capturing the Dubai World Cup by 14 lengths in March.

"We went through the same thing with Silver Charm," Harty said, referring to how Silver Charm was dull at Del Mar following his Dubai World Cup win in 1998, but eventually bounced back for trainer Bob Baffert, for whom Harty was an assistant at the time. "We're down but not out."

Harty said Well Armed's poor race was "a big surprise."

"I thought he'd be right there," Harty said. "Aaron was having to niggle at him to keep up."

Gryder said Well Armed usually pulls him to the front, but needed to be asked down the backstretch. Gryder said he could not blame the track, since Well Armed had trained so strongly over it since his arrival here.

"He ran a bad race in the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall," Gryder said, "but it was a different kind of race. He was getting bounced around the early part of that race."

The weekend started better for Harty. He brought Colonel John back from a seven-month layoff to win the Wickerr Handicap in his turf debut, opening possible new avenues.

"I haven't decided yet, but I might keep him here for the Del Mar Mile, or even the Pacific Classic," Harty said.

The Del Mar Mile is a Grade 2, $300,000 race on turf on Aug. 29. The Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic is Sept. 6.

Rail Trip stretches his legs

The likely favorite for the Pacific Classic is Rail Trip, who captured the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start. He had an easy half-mile breeze in 48 seconds on Monday, his first drill since the Gold Cup.

"He was just stretching his legs," said Ron Ellis, who trains Rail Trip for Mace and Samantha Siegel. "He seems to handle this track all right. At this point, the plan is to run in the Pacific Classic, skip the Goodwood, then run in the Breeders' Cup Classic."

Boyhoood friends celebrate

Doug O'Neill and Mark Verge, schoolboy chums, used to sneak the racing section of a local paper into class with them. It got them in trouble, but it was worth it. O'Neill now is one of Southern California's most successful trainers, and Verge has the wherewithal to own horses because of the success of his real estate company, Westside Rentals.com.

Last year, in partnership with Russ Sarno and the W C Racing stable of Josh Kaplan, Verge, and O'Neill claimed Informed, a son of Tiznow, for $25,000. Since then, he has taken the two friends to Dubai for the World Cup card and Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks card. And now they have an automatic berth in this year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, because Informed earned his way there with his victory in the San Diego, a Win and You're In race.

First up, though, should be the Pacific Classic. The San Diego, at 1 1/16 miles, is a prep for the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic. Informed finished sixth in the Hollywood Gold Cup in his only previous try at 1 1/4 miles, but O'Neill thinks he can handle 10 furlongs.

"If he gets a trip, he can get the distance," O'Neill said. "He needs a clear trip."

He got one on Sunday under jockey Tyler Baze.

"Tyler did a good job keeping him out of trouble," O'Neill said. "He saved ground on the first turn and got out on the last turn. He had a great trip."

Informed, 5, won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park in June. Earlier this year, he was seventh in the Godolphin Mile at Nad Al Sheba, and fourth in the Grade 3 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 1. In the past 13 months, he has won 4 of 13 starts.

Patricia's Gem to be entered in Hirsch

Add Richard Mandella to the list of trainers who are going to do some tire-kicking this weekend. Mandella on Tuesday said he will enter Patricia's Gem against the undefeated Zenyatta in the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes, to be run Sunday on Polytrack.

As many as nine horses could enter the Hirsch, though far fewer are expected to run, assuming nothing unforeseen happens to Zenyatta. Included among the list of probable entrants is Life Is Sweet, a John Shirreffs-trained stablemate of Zenyatta.

Mandella said Patricia's Gem was still more likely to wind up in the Grade 1, $350,000 John Mabee Stakes on Aug. 16. That race is on turf, the surface over which Patricia's Gem just missed in the Royal Heroine at Hollywood Park in her last start.

Baffert holds strong stakes hand

Trainer Bob Baffert doesn't have anything in the Hirsch, but he has a chance to sweep the other stakes here this weekend. The brilliantly fast 3-year-old Zensational should be a heavy favorite in the Grade 1, $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap against older sprinters on Saturday, and Lookin at Lucky will be one of the top choices in the Grade 2, $150,000 Best Pal Stakes for 2-year-olds on Sunday.

Zensational tuned up for the six-furlong Bing Crosby with a half-mile drill in 45.60 seconds on Monday morning.

"That damn horse is so fast. He did it easy," Baffert said. "He has ridiculous speed, and he does it effortlessly."

Only a handful of horses are expected to challenge Zensational, including Rush With Thunder, who was second to Zensational in last month's Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Lookin at Lucky, who won his lone start on July 11 at Hollywood Park, is one of at least six horses expected to enter the 6 1/2-furlong Best Pal. His rivals include Hurricane Ike, another debut winner at Hollywood. Classical Slew, Make Music for Me, Smiling Tiger, and Zip Quik are also likely for the Best Pal.

Hurricane Ike worked six furlongs in 1:10.60 on Monday.

Gaines has promising youngster

Trainer Carla Gaines has high hopes for John Scott, a 2-year-old colt by Bertrando who was an eye-catching winner of his debut in Sunday's fifth race. He came through traffic and rallied with determination to prevail.

"When he broke dead last, I sat back in my chair and thought, 'Can't win this,' " Gaines said. "He had some adversity, didn't he?

"I love this horse. In the mornings, for a baby, he's so professional. He just sits and waits for you to ask him to go, and then he sprouts wings. He's got a lot of class. It's nice to have a 2-year-old do in the afternoon, first time out, what he's been doing in the morning."

Gaines will try to win with another first-time starter on Thursday, when Glory Forever, a 3-year-old daughter of In Excess out of the Skywalker mare Image of Glory, makes her debut in the second race.

"I trained the mare, and she was a very, very talented sprinter," Gaines said. "This is a nice filly."

Two jockeys suspended

Jockeys Martin Garcia and Michael Baze have been suspended for three days apiece by Del Mar's stewards for careless-riding infractions last week.

Garcia's suspension, which begins Thursday, is for failing to maintain a straight course on Ritzville when leaving the starting gate in the eighth race last Wednesday.

Baze's suspension, which begins Saturday, is the result of the disqualification from first place of Self Insured in the final race on Friday.

* Russell Hudak, who makes the morning line at Hollywood Park, has taken over at Del Mar for Jeff Tufts, whom Del Mar officials said was relocating to Oregon. Tufts also has been the linemaker at Santa Anita, a position he has held since 1974.