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Headley's Cup hopefuls get tryouts
DEL MAR, Calif. - The Breeders' Cup is two months away, but how much participation trainer Bruce Headley has in the event largely will be determined on Sunday, when he sends out Arson Squad, Magnificience, and Surf Cat in three stakes at Del Mar that all are part of the Breeders' Cup's Win and You're In program.
Surf Cat will compete in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, the richest and most important of four graded stakes, all of which will be televised live by ESPN. Arson Squad goes in the Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap for sprinters, and Magnificience competes in the Gradeo3, $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for female sprinters.
"This will tell us a lot about where we'll be in October," assistant trainer Karen Headley said Tuesday morning while overseeing the Del Mar barn of her father, who had the morning off for a doctor's appointment.
Surf Cat, second last time out in the San Diego Handicap, served notice that he's on edge for the 1 1/4-mile Classic by scorching five furlongs on Tuesday morning in 57.60 seconds, the fastest time of 36 at the distance. David Flores, who will ride all three Headley horses on Sunday, was aboard.
"He's much more seasoned now," Karen Headley said. "He can do anything - short, long. As he's gotten older, he's gotten more mature. But he's always thinking. He feels so good."
Karen Headley, 39, does the early training of her father's horses at Fairplex Park in Pomona, when they are making the transition from yearlings to 2-year-olds. She said Surf Cat, now 5, was more advanced physically then mentally three years ago.
"His brains had to grow into his body," she said.
She said her father, 74, is eager to compete in this year's Breeders' Cup, Oct. 24-25 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.
"He's excited about running nice horses against horses that are not running on steroids," Karen Headley said. "He's hay, oats, and water."
This year's Breeders' Cup is the first in which steroids will be prohibited.
Out of Control out of Pacific Classic
The prospective Pacific Classic field shrank by one on Tuesday when trainer Bobby Frankel said Out of Control would not ship from New York.
"He was coughing," Frankel said from Saratoga. "He's got some mucus. I don't want to take a chance shipping him."
Fields for all four stakes on Sunday were scheduled to be drawn on Wednesday.
The Pacific Classic field is expected to consist of Awesome Gem (Tyler Baze the rider), Barcola (Corey Nakatani), Delosvientos (Joel Rosario), Go Between (Garrett Gomez), Mast Track (Rafael Bejarano), McCann's Mojave (Julio Garcia), Mostacolli Mort (Victor Espinoza), Student Council (Shaun Bridgmohan), Surf Cat (David Flores), Well Armed (Aaron Gryder), and Zappa (Alan Garcia).
Well Armed, the San Diego Handicap winner, worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Del Mar on Tuesday.
The winner of the race gets an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Midnight Lute a go for Pat O'Brien
Midnight Lute, the 2007 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter, will remain in California and make his first start of the year on Sunday in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien, in which his rivals will include Arson Squad.
"He's going to run here," his trainer, Bob Baffert, said Tuesday. "It makes sense, with the Breeders' Cup in California this year."
Midnight Lute won the Breeders' Cup Sprint last year at Monmouth. The Pat O'Brien winner gets an automatic spot in this year's BC Sprint.
Midnight Lute, who will be ridden by Gomez, was assigned top weight of 122 pounds, one more than In Summation (Nakatani).
The Pat O'Brien field is also expected to include Barbecue Eddie (Gryder), Bullsbay (Espinoza), Doppio (Jose Valdivia Jr.), Five Star Thief (Rosario), How's Your Halo (Baze), Hurry Up Austin (Jon Court), Lewis Michael (Rene Douglas), and Rebellion (Bejarano).
Thor's Echo, the 2006 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter, will pass the O'Brien and point for the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 27, trainer Doug O'Neill said Tuesday.
Mile better option for Monzante
Trainer Mike Mitchell said he toyed with the idea of running Monzante in the Pacific Classic, but eventually decided to leave Monzante on turf and race him in the Grade 2, $400,000 Del Mar Mile on Sunday. The winner of that race automatically gets into the BC Mile.
"He blew out really well," Mitchell said, referring to a six-furlong work in 1:13 Monday on Polytrack. "All systems are go. With my horse's style, he'd have been dead last in the Pacific Classic, and would have to circle the field. That's a hard way to win on the main track. If I did that, and he ran last, I'd feel like an idiot."
Monzante is coming off a powerful victory in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap. He will be shortening up from 1 1/8 miles to one mile.
Bejarano will ride Monzante. Expected to face Monzante are Bold Chieftain (Russell Baze), Daytona (Alex Solis), Dark Islander (Rosario), Global Hunter (Valdivia), One Union (Espinoza), Stoneside (Mike Smith), Storm Military (Flores), Whatsthescript (Gomez), and Willow O Wisp (Brice Blanc).
Bejarano leads the meet with 31 wins, but it's getting cozy at the top. Rosario has 28 wins, Tyler Baze 26, and a resurgent Gomez 24.
Dearest Trickski synthetic specialist
Dearest Trickski has won five times in six starts on synthetic surfaces since being claimed here a year ago for $32,000. In that time, she has two stakes wins, including the A Gleam Handicap on June 28 at Hollywood Park in her last start.
She will seek to add to her totals in 6 1/2-furlong Rancho Bernardo Handicap, in which she will face Magnificience. Smith, unbeaten on her in three starts, has the mount.
Others expected for the Rancho Bernardo are Highland Torree (Martin Garcia), La Tee (Tyler Baze), Silky Smooth (Bejarano), Society Hostess (Valdivia), Spring Awakening (Gomez), Tiz Elemental (Rosario), and possibly Set Play.
The winner gets an automatic spot in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.
Warning Zone out of Del Mar Cap
Warning Zone, who won the Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 13, was scheduled to return in the Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on Saturday, but trainer John Sadler said Warning Zone popped a quarter crack and will not compete in the 1 3/8-mile grass race.
Even with his absence, there still should be a large field, including American Imperium, Cedar Mountain, Church Service, Heroi Do Bafra, Runaway Dancer, Spring House, Tissy Fit, Transduction Gold, and You Got Me Rocking.
Sadler still will be represented by Tissy Fit. He leads the trainer standings with 24 wins, 10 more than Mitchell.
The winner of the Del Mar Handicap receives an automatic berth into the BC Turf.
Stakes slump over for Solis
For nearly five weeks at Del Mar, Solis was winless in stakes races, though he won enough meat-and-potato races to rank sixth in overall wins. Solis more than made up for his stakes drought last Saturday and Sunday, sweeping the weekend stakes with Magical Fantasy in the Del Mar Oaks and America's Friend in the Solana Beach Handicap. This weekend, Solis will team with trainer Dan Hendricks to try and win the Del Mar Handicap with Runaway Dancer, and the Del Mar Mile with Daytona.
Before winning both stakes, Solis had 8 wins and 18 seconds.
"I finally got rid of the seconds," he said. "I've been doing everything I can. I don't feel like I've been making mistakes. I just was getting outrun by better horses. You can either cry about it or think positive."
Solis is sixth all-time among stakes-winning jockeys at Del Mar with 91 wins, one behind Nakatani, but he's within hailing distance of several others. Eddie Delahoussaye and Bill Shoemaker are tied for third with 94, and Laffit Pincay Jr. is second with 96. Chris McCarron leads with 134.
Midshipman headed to Futurity
From 1996 to 2002, Baffert won the Del Mar Futurity seven straight times. His success with 2-year-olds at this track, however, has been anemic since Polytrack was installed last year, but Baffert looks to have a strong contender in this year's Futurity with the colt Midshipman, who won stylishly at first asking on Sunday at odds of 11-1.
"And he actually needed that race," Baffert said. "I told my wife, Jill, before the race, 'He won't be 11-1 ever again.' "
Midshipman, by Unbridled's Song, was bred and is owned by the Stonerside Stable of Bob and Janice McNair.
"I told Bob McNair a week before the race that I hadn't had one this good for him since Congaree," Baffert said.
Congaree, a multiple stakes winner, was a two-time winner of the Cigar Mile and finished third in the 2001 Kentucky Derby.