05/31/2008 12:00AM

Heatseeker finds new weapon in Californian


INGLEWOOD, Calif.-At the age of 5, with a million-dollar race to his credit earlier this year, Heatseeker is finding new ways to win.

In Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park, Heatseeker led or disputed the pace throughout 1 1/8 miles, and easily beat three rivals, including the multiple stakes winners Tiago and Surf Cat. Albertus Maximus, who was expected to lead early, never reached the front and finished last in the four-horse field.

Heatseeker ($4) finished in track record time of 1:47.06, lowering his own mark. Last December, he won the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap in 1:47.23.

Heatseeker was expected to stalk the pace in the Grade 2 Californian, but jockey Rafael Bejarano had Heatseeker within a head of Surf Cat through slow early fractions of 24.72 and 48.15. Racing on the rail, Heatseeker was essentially even with Surf Cat with five furlongs remaining and took the lead on the final turn, drawing off to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Tiago.

“I wanted to come from behind, but nobody wanted to go to the lead,” Bejarano said. “We were going really slow early and he was able to take advantage of the slow pace. I thought I had Surf Cat measured because I had a lot of gas left when we got to the turn. He was really running. It was like he re-broke at the eighth pole.”

Tiago, last for the first six furlongs, closed well to finish 1 3/4 lengths in front of Surf Cat. Tiago, fourth in the Big Cap behind Heatseeker, had beaten Heatseeker by a head in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas on April 5.

The win confirmed Heatseeker's status as the top older horse in California, and one of the best in the nation. The Grade 2 Californian was Heatseeker's second stakes win of the year, coming nearly three months after the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Owned by William de Burgh and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Heatseeker, by Giant's Causeway, has won 7 of 17 starts and $1,180,723.

Heatseeker will be pointed for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 28, a race expected to draw Tiago and Surf Cat.