07/10/2012 4:33PM

Hollywood Park: American Oaks brings Channon back Stateside


The last time that trainer Mick Channon won anything in the United States he was at Yankee Stadium in 1976.

Playing as the 27-year-old captain of the English national soccer team, Channon scored two goals in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Italy in an exhibition game before more than 40,000.

“That’s probably the last time I was in the States,” Channon said earlier this week. “I had hair in them days.”

Now 63, Channon gave up soccer in 1986 after a 20-year career. He began training Thoroughbreds in 1990.

From his base in West Ilsley, England, about 75 minutes west of London, Channon’s stable has risen in prominence in recent years, with at least one win in a Grade 1 or Group 1 each year in Europe or Canada since 2006.

Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park, Channon can win his first Grade 1 race in the United States with Nayarra in the $350,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

“She’s not the biggest, but she’s got a big heart,” he said. “This should be perfect.”

Nayarra, who races for Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, is part of Channon’s streak of at least one Grade 1 or Group 1 winner a year. She won the Group 1 Gran Criterium in Italy last November against colts.

In the late 2000’s, Channon’s stable was led by the now-retired Youmzain, second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for three consecutive years from 2007-2009. Known around the barn as a notorious biter, Youmzain won the Group 1 Preis Von Europe in Germany in 2006 and the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in France in 2008.

Channon’s other Group 1 wins in recent years include Majestic Roi in the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket in 2007, the 44-1 Lahaleeb in the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine in 2009, and Music Show in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket in 2010.

In May, Channon won his first classic, the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh with the 12-1 outsider Samitar. She was fourth in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot last month.

Nayarra has an odd race record, with the Gran Criterium her only win in 13 starts. This year, she is winless in four starts, including a ninth-place finish in the English 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and a 12th in the English Oaks over 1 1/2 miles at Epsom Downs, her most recent start.

In the English Oaks, Nayarra led to the quarter pole and was not urged when beaten in the final furlong. The race was too long for her, Channon said.

“We tried to stretch her out and go a bit further,” Channon said. “I think that’s probably trainer error.”

The trip to California with Nayarra marks a change for Channon, who has raced sparingly in the United States. His lone previous starter in this country was Golden Silca, who finished fifth in the 2002 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park. He may start several horses in the United States this year.

Channon said that Samitar is a possible starter for the $200,000 Lake George Stakes over 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga on July 25. Laugh Out Loud, who won the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham at Chantilly, France, last month, may run in the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes on Aug. 18.

In the 10-year history of the American Oaks, foreign fillies have won twice – Dimitrova from Ireland in 2003 and Cesario from Japan in 2005.

Dublino, a European import, finished first in 2002, but was disqualified and placed second for causing interference in the stretch.

The race had a $500,000 purse in 2002, was worth $750,000 from 2003 to 2008, and was worth $500,000 in 2009. There were foreign-based runners in all of those races, and as many as six in 2005. In 2010 and 2011, the American Oaks was a $250,000 race and an all-American affair.

This year’s running was supposed to be worth $400,000 until a purse cut last month because of low handle shaved $50,000 from the prize.

Nayarra is one of two shippers, joined by another English filly, Miss Cato. Channon said the 5,400-mile trip is worth the journey, and could lead to further Stateside travel for the filly in the second half of the year.

“If it works, we wouldn’t mind traveling again,” he said. “We’re putting our toe in the water, anyway.”