12/15/2011 3:17PM

Hollywood: O'Neill has two shots for Grade 1

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Benoit & Associates
Handsome Mike (right), Rafael Bejarano up, runs second to Stoney Fleece in the Generous.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Saturday’s $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park is trainer Doug O’Neill’s last best chance to grab a Grade 1 victory in 2011.

O’Neill is not expected to have leading contenders in the final two Grade 1 races of the year – the Malibu and La Brea stakes at Santa Anita after Christmas – but has two of the 13 runners in the CashCall in Basmati and Handsome Mike.

“I think we’ve got two serious chances in there,” O’Neill said. “I think we can win. I really do.”

The ever-optimistic O’Neill, 43, has not won a Grade 1 race since Wickedly Perfect in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in October, 2010. His last Grade 1 win in Southern California was Lava Man’s Hollywood Gold Cup victory in July 2007.

“Has it been that long?” he said on Thursday. “It tells you how blessed I was back then.”

A win by Basmati or Handsome Mike in the CashCall Futurity over 1 1/16 miles would not be a shock, though neither will be favored.

Basmati has one victory in seven starts and earnings of $278,800, making the colt the richest runner in the CashCall Futurity. A colt by Borrego, Basmati was second in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes at Delta Downs in Louisiana on Nov. 19. In that race over 1 1/16 miles, Basmati finished four lengths behind Sabercat after fighting for the lead in the stretch.

“Basmati is an extremely talented colt,” O’Neill said. “He made that move and the winner came flying. I thought Basmati ran a dynamite race.”

Basmati is owned by Zillah Reddam, the wife of Paul Reddam, the prominent horse owner who recently acquired Handsome Mike. Paul Reddam owns CashCall, the financial lending company that sponsors Saturday’s race.

Handsome Mike will make his first start for Reddam and O’Neill in the CashCall Futurity. Previously trained by Melody Conlon for breeder John Liviakis, Handsome Mike was acquired privately after finishing second in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes on turf at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27. A colt by Scat Daddy, Handsome Mike set the pace and finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Stoney Fleece in that one-mile race.

“Handsome Mike was pressed all the way and he kept going,” O’Neill said. “He’s a classy sonofagun. He acts and trains like an older horse.”

O’Neill said he had his eye on Handsome Mike since mid-October when the colt won a maiden race on Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in his second start. “We huddled up and said he’d be a good addition to the Reddam team,” O’Neill said.

Those are O’Neill hopes for a win on Saturday, and an opportunity to gain a role in the Triple Crown buildup next spring. By then, wins in Grade 1 races will be even tougher.

CashCall Futurity (G1), Post Time: 4:37 PT Saturday

Purse: $750,000; 1 1/16 miles

Odds by Byron King

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Handsome Mike

D. O'Neill

C. Nakatani

12-1

1

Brother Francis

J. Cassidy

V. Espinoza

10-1

1

Groovin' Solo

M. Cho

A. Quinonez

99-1

1

Empire Way

M. Harrington

J. Rosario

30-1

1

Drill

B. Baffert

M. Garcia

9-2

1

Sky Kingdom

B. Baffert

G. Gomez

6-1

1

Blingo

J. Shirreffs

M. Smith

8-1

1

Rousing Sermon

J. Hollendorfer

J. Talamo

10-1

1

Liason

B. Baffert

R. Bejarano

5-1

1

Cozzetti

D. Romans

J. Leparoux

12-1

1

Majestic City

P. Miller

R. Dominguez

5-1

1

Basmati

D. O'Neill

H. Berrios

12-1

1

Basmati

P. Gallagher

D. Flores

30-1