09/07/2011 12:44PM

Hastings: Mitchell takes first shot in Canada with Hurricane Lake in British Columbia Derby

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Benoit & Associates
Hurricane Lake will be trainer Mike Mitchell's first starter in Canada.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Trainer Mike Mitchell will send out his first-ever Canadian starter Sunday, when he runs Hurricane Lake in the Grade 3, $200,000 British Columbia Derby at Hastings.

Mitchell, who recently set a record for the most career wins at Del Mar, claimed Hurricane Lake for $50,000 out of a winning race at Del Mar on Aug. 6 for Vancouver resident Jeff Sengara. Mitchell said he would be at Hastings in time for the B.C. Derby dinner Thursday night, when post positions will be chosen.

“I’ve never run a horse in Canada, but I’ve been to Vancouver, and it is a beautiful city,” Mitchell said. “I’m looking at the trip as a bit of a working vacation. I’ve become good friends with Jeff and his family, and it allows me a chance to spend some time with them. Hopefully, we can win a race, too.”

The B.C. Derby closes in June, and when the initial nominations came out June 15, Mitchell and Sengara had a horse nominated. It wasn’t Hurricane Lake, however, who has been supplemented for $9,500. Instead, it was Celestic Night, a horse they claimed for $80,000 in March. At the time, Celestic Night hadn’t worked since being claimed and it seemed unlikely that the horse would be ready to run 1 1/8 miles in September.

But Celestic Night was ready to run in September, and he ran very well, winning the $100,000 El Cajon at Del Mar going a mile last Friday at 17-1. Martin Garcia, who rode Celestic Night, will be at Hastings to ride Hurricane Lake.

“It was one of the most emotional wins I’ve had,” Sengara said from Del Mar. “It has been a pretty special time here this year with Mike setting the record. When we claimed Celestic Night, Mike liked him so much he told me to nominate him to the Santa Anita Derby. After he got injured, Mike said he was going to look at a stakes race at the end of Del Mar or ‘that race in Vancouver.’ ”

Mitchell and Sengara are a good match. Instead of spending a lot of money on yearlings or proven horses, Sengara likes to claim horses at moderate prices that he thinks have the potential to become stakes horses.

Using a baseball analogy, Senagara said, “I am a big Yankees fan, but I like the way Tampa Bay does their business by looking for bargains. I want to win the B.C. Derby, but I am not going to go out and spend a lot of money on a horse to do it.”

Sengara had success using that formula with Bud Royale and Bluesthestandard, horses Ted West claimed on his behalf for $50,000 that went on to become graded stakes winners. They also both finished second in Breeders’ Cup races; Budroyale in the 1999 Classic and Bluesthestandard in the 2003 Sprint.

Mitchell is known for having a good eye for a horse, and they usually improve after he claims them. Camp Victory, a horse he haltered for $40,000 last February, is a good example of his ability to move a horse up. Camp Victory won the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park via disqualification and recently finished second in the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar. He picked out Hurricane Lake for Sengara.

“The way it usually works is that I pick out the horse and have Jeff look it over,” Mitchell said. “If he gives the okay, we take him.”

According to Sengara, Mitchell is “old school.” He looks at the way the horse runs, and not the type of figures he puts up.

“I look at the numbers,” Sengara said. “When Mike told me to look at Hurricane Lake, the figures jumped off the charts.”

The B.C. Derby is a race Sengara has wanted to win for a long time, but he has had only one starter in the race, Mysterious Cat in 2001. According to Sengara, Mysterious Cat had a rough trip. He also ran into a pretty tough horse in Fancy As, who came back to win the Grade 3 Premiers at Hastings and then finished third in the Grade 2 San Fernando and Strub at Santa Anita.

Sengara has a serious shot with Hurricane Lake. There doesn’t appear to be any one of the likes of Fancy As in the field, and Hurricane Lake could end up being the favorite in what appears to be a wide-open race. He beat Northern Causeway, the Richmond Derby Trial winner at Hastings, in a first-level allowance race at Golden Gate in March. Hurricane Lake’s previous connections thought he was good enough to give him a try in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland, where he finished fifth. Hurricane Lake is coming off two solid races, a second in a $40,000 claiming race at Hollywood on June 19 and the winning race he was claimed out of going seven furlongs.

And of course, there is the Mitchell factor to consider.

“What you see is what you get, but he should improve going a distance,” Mitchell said. “He’s a pretty horse, and I think he’ll like the track up there. He’s had a couple of nice works since we got him, and I’m looking forward to the trip.”