12/22/2009 12:00AM

Hess maiden primed for his debut

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Benoit & Associates
Loup Breton, winner of his North American debut at Hollywood Park last month, is among the probable starters for Sunday's San Gabriel.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Many of the trainers expected to be major players in the run-up to the Santa Anita Derby - Bob Baffert, Eoin Harty, and Jerry Hollendorfer - have maidens entered in the final race on opening-day Saturday at Santa Anita, but there will be several others trying to crash their party, including Bob Hess Jr., who sends out the promising Imperial Pride in the 6 1/2-furlong race for 2-year-olds.

Imperial Pride, by Limehouse, worked five furlongs from the gate in 59.20 seconds Monday, the best time among 26 at the distance.

"I think he's got a chance to be special," Hess said Tuesday morning. "He's shown enough in the mornings to think he'll be competitive on Saturday, but I think he wants to go longer. When he worked on Monday, he worked with three other horses, and he broke a little tardily. He's not real quick. He's bred to go a mile and an eighth."

Imperial Pride benefitted by drawing the outside post in the field of 11, so he should get a clean, albeit wide, trip from there.

Hess's longtime friend Kent Desormeaux, in town to ride Dani Reese in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes earlier in the day, has the mount.

Hess said he bought Imperial Pride privately for a partnership at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2008 after the horse failed to bring his reserve in the auction ring.

"He's a beautiful, lovely horse," Hess said.

A maiden race for 2-year-old fillies, scheduled as the third race in the condition book, did not go because it did not get enough entries. A substitute race, for maiden claimers, was used in its stead.

Small field likely for San Gabriel

Only a handful of runners were expected to be entered Wednesday for the Grade 2, $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap on Sunday, including the European import Loup Breton, who was an impressive winner of a money-allowance race in his North American debut last month at Hollywood Park for trainer Julio Canani.

Loup Breton worked three furlongs in 35.20 seconds Tuesday morning on the main track.

Among those nominated to the San Gabriel is Lava Man, whose scheduled comeback in the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park earlier this month was postponed because of rain. Lava Man, 8, has not raced since July 2008 and has not won a race since June 2007, when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup for the third straight year for trainer Doug O'Neill.

Proudinsky, who won the San Gabriel last year after finishing second in the race in 2007, is expected to start for trainer Humberto Ascanio. He finished fourth to stablemate Fluke in the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park in his last start.

Noble's Promise getting a vacation

Noble's Promise, who finished second to Lookin at Lucky in the CashCall Futurity last Saturday, will get a breather before resuming his career next year at age 3, trainer Ken McPeek said.

McPeek currently has a dozen horses at Santa Anita, "but we've got room to expand to 20 in in the next month," he said. Among those based here are Connie and Michael, who is being pointed to the new year's stakes program for 3-year-old fillies, and Dream Empress, a top 2-year-old filly of 2008 who is nearing a return to action after disappointing earlier this year at age 3.

"It's a nice group of horses," McPeek said. "Do we have any killers? I don't know. I hope we'll be competitive. I'd like to win our fair share."

McPeek, who is based in Kentucky and has horses in Florida during the winter, called his venture to California "an experiment," but said he could envision having a small, year-round string out here if he does well.

"It's the first time I've been this spread out," he said. "If it goes well, we could leave a string here."

Ajtebi gets mount in Malibu Stakes

Dubai-based jockey Ahmed Ajtebi, who guided Vale of York to a $63.20 upset over Lookin at Lucky in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, will ride the Darley Stable-owned Coronet of a Baron opening day in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes.

Ajtebi is no stranger to big-race wins. He rode Gladiatorus to victory in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free in March and scored earlier on the World Cup card with Dubai Sheema Classic winner Eastern Anthem.

Ajtebi will receive an award in Dubai on Jan. 6, then return to Santa Anita to ride through Jan. 18. He will ride regularly in Dubai starting Jan. 28.

Ex-trainer Nicholson dies at 88

Former trainer Junior Nicholson died Dec. 19 in Glendora, Calif. He was 88. Nicholson's training career in California stretched from the 1950s into the 1990s. He later was a manager for Halo Farms. Nicholson retired six years ago. Born on Oct. 15, 1921, in Madrid, Neb., Nicholson is survived by a son Gary and a daughter Lorrie Sise, wife of trainer Cliff Sise. There will be no funeral services.

HRTV to air Santa Anita special

A one-hour special celebrating the 75th anniversary of Santa Anita's opening will be shown on HRTV, beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, Christmas Eve. It will be repeated several times throughout the day as well as on Friday, Christmas Day.

The show also will preview the upcoming meeting, which opens Saturday, as well as the upcoming meeting at Gulfstream Park, which opens next week. Both Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park are owned by Magna Entertainment, a parent company of HRTV, which will have live coverage of both track's races throughout their meets.

A show recapping the 2009 racing season as well as shows focusing on the Eclipse Awards and Horse of the Year also are part of HRTV's programming on days preceding Saturday's opening day.

Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day in 1934.

* Dancing in Silks, winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 on Tuesday morning for trainer Carla Gaines.

* The stewards for the meeting are Scott Chaney, Kim Sawyer, and Tom Ward.

- additional reporting by Brad Free