02/24/2010 12:00AM

High Pointe shippers finish 1-2-3 in Valdale

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The virtues of being stabled at a private training center were manifested last Saturday at Turfway Park when the top three finishers in the Valdale Stakes all turned out to be shippers from the High Pointe Training Center in LaGrange, Ky.

Helen Belen, Hot Citizen, and Offlee Funny all were vanned the hour or so it takes to travel north on Interstate 71 from High Pointe to Turfway in Florence, Ky.

Bill Denzik Jr., who trains Helen Belen, has been stabled at High Pointe for the last eight years.

"It seems like owners are accepting training centers more than they have in the past," said Denzik, who also had a five-year stint at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington, Ky., earlier in his training career. "It's quiet out here, and you have options. Horses that have stress-related problems or other issues, sometimes you can deal with them better than when you're stabled at the track."

High Pointe was converted from a center for Arabian horses about 10 years ago and has been systematically upgraded to accommodate Thoroughbreds who generally do their racing at Kentucky tracks. With about 250 to 300 horses on the grounds, there is a six-furlong dirt track, a half-mile undulating Polytrack oval, and an indoor arena that allows light training in case of harsh weather.

For Denzik, 42, the Valdale marked the first stakes win of his career as well as the first for owner Mike Schnell of Desk Farms LLC. Helen Belen won by a whopping 14 3/4 lengths and will run next in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks on the March 27 Lane's End Stakes undercard at Turfway.

"The filly ran a real big one," Denzik said. "We'll take the same approach with her leading up to the Bourbonette."

Hot Citizen is trained by John Good, a former longtime assistant to Bob Baffert, while Offlee Funny is trained by Walt Bindner Jr., who is in his first year at High Pointe after more than 25 straight years of wintering at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The Valdale field also included well-regarded shippers from Ken McPeek in south Florida and Al Stall Jr. in New Orleans.

"This is a nice place to set up shop," Bindner said. "It's good to see High Pointe get a little recognition with what happened last weekend."

De La Cruz notches four-bagger

Jockey Fernando De La Cruz accounted for one-third of the Turfway card last Friday night by winning four races, including three in a row. De La Cruz, who has ridden mostly in Kentucky and Indiana since leaving his native Peru in 2006, won the third race with Veteran's Day ($8.80), the fourth with Bubble Berry ($33.60), the fifth with Interest Me ($3), and the 10th with Country Singer ($4.20).

De La Cruz, 29, attended the jockey school that produced such accomplished countrymen as Edgar Prado, Rafael Bejarano, and Miguel Mena. His book is being handled by former trainer John Fahey.

* The Friday night feature at Turfway is the 11th race, the lone allowance on a 12-race card that starts at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. The $22,900, one-mile race drew a field of 11 older horses, with Canyon Drive, Good Mon, and Water Mill likely to vie for favoritism.

After Sunday, and through the March 28 conclusion of the meet, Turfway is moving to a four-day race schedule by adding Thursday afternoons.

* Turfway has announced that the 1990 Cincinnati Reds world championship team will be honored this year on the commemorative Maker's Mark bottles that have been marketed in time for the Lane's End Stakes every year since 2004.

The limited-edition bottles pay tribute to the 20th anniversary of the Reds' four-game sweep of Oakland. Previous honorees on the Lane's End bottles include Oscar Robertson, Cris Collinsworth, Johnny Bench, and Boomer Esiason.

* At least two events that have been a big part of the Kentucky Derby social scene in recent years have been canceled this year. The Mint Jubilee Gala, held annually since 1997, and the Grand Gala, which dates to 2002, both have been scrapped primarily because of the weak economy, according to event organizers. Neither event is directly affiliated with Churchill Downs.