11/29/2013 11:49AM

Hollywood Derby: Rookie Sensation back for more

Barbara D. Livingston
Rookie Sensation won the Twilight Derby in his stakes debut and will try to go one better Sunday in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – After Rookie Sensation won his stakes debut in the $150,000 Twilight Derby at Santa Anita on Nov. 1, trainer John Shirreffs thought he had seen enough for 2013.

“I was thinking about next year,” he said earlier this week.

Shirreffs changed his mind as November unfolded and decided Sunday’s $250,000 Hollywood Derby at Betfair Hollywood Park is too tempting to pass with Rookie Sensation.

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There are still big goals for 2014, maybe even a start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita next November.

“Those are the sort of things you dream about,” Shirreffs said.

Rookie Sensation belongs in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf. The race is the last major turf stakes of the year for 3-year-olds and has drawn a strong field of U.S. runners and an import from England.

Rookie Sensation is one of five runners in a field of 10 in the Hollywood Derby who started in the Grade 2 Twilight Derby over 1 1/8 miles. Rookie Sensation closed from ninth in a field of 13 under jockey Victor Espinoza to win by a length in the longest race of his career.

“He was strong at the finish,” Shirreffs said. “Victor had the chance to save ground and he cut the corner.”

Shirreffs laughed when asked if a repeat of that performance would be enough to win the Hollywood Derby.

“He looks good,” he said. “With any luck at all, he’ll run his race.”

Owned by Stronach Stables, Rookie Sensation will need to be at his best Sunday in a field that includes eight stakes winners. Five of the runners made their last start outside of California – Admiral Kitten, Amen Kitten, Infinite Magic, Jack Milton, and Seek Again.

Admiral Kitten and Jack Milton were first and third in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 17 and second and third behind Up With the Birds in the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 5.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey own Admiral Kitten, who is trained by Mike Maker, and Amen Kitten, who is trained by Wesley Ward. Amen Kitten won the Tropical Park Derby at Calder on Oct. 12 in his last start.

Jack Milton, owned by California resident Gary Barber, won the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland in April in his stakes debut. In the Secretariat Stakes, Jack Milton was wide for much of the race over 1 1/4 miles. In the Jamaica Handicap, Jack Milton raced in traffic in early stretch and was beaten a length.

“He’s been a little unlucky this year,” trainer Todd Pletcher said earlier this week. “This should be an important race for him. The distance should work.”

Infinite Magic won the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington Park on July 13, beating Admiral Kitten. Trained by Rick Mettee, Infinite Magic was second in a division of the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 1. Mettee thought that Infinite Magic did not have an ideal trip in that race.

“In the Del Mar Derby, he didn’t break real sharp and he was farther back,” Mettee said.

Infinite Magic was last of 10 in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby on Oct. 5, a loss that Mettee dismissed because of the soft turf.

The field has one international shipper in Seek Again, a Kentucky-bred colt by Speightstown who won a handicap over 1 1/8 miles at York, England, on Oct. 12 for trainer John Gosden. Seek Again has never run in a graded or group stakes. He was fifth of 31 in the $258,200 Cambridgeshire Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Newmarket on Sept. 28.

Seek Again is out of Light Jig, who won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita in 2004 for Juddmonte Farms and the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.