07/11/2012 2:59PM

Hollywood Park: American Oaks is Proctor's pick for Left a Message

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The fourth-place finish by Left a Message in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 16 left trainer Tom Proctor with a strong opinion of the filly’s stakes debut. She was better than the race indicated, and deserving of another start in a stakes.

Proctor had two options – the $350,000 American Oaks at Betfair Hollywood Park on Saturday or the $150,000 Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs on July 21. He chose the California race largely because of the weather.

“As hot as it is there, I thought we’d go here,” he said on the Hollywood Park backstretch on Wednesday morning.

Temperatures for Saturday’s race are expected to be in the high 70s.

Now the filly has a chance to prove Proctor’s opinion about her loss in the Regret.

“She was in trouble the whole way,” Proctor said. “She only got to run the last bit.”

Owned by Glen Hill Farm, Left a Message was beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Centre Court, who is not part of the American Oaks field. The Grade 1 American Oaks is run over 1 1/4 miles on turf and has drawn runners from California and other parts of the nation as well as two fillies from England.

Left a Message, by Mr. Greeley, has won 2 of 4 starts, racing only on turf. She won a maiden race at Gulfstream Park in March 29 and her debut against winner at Keeneland on April 21. Considering the way that Left a Message closed in the stretch of the Regret Stakes over 1 1/8 miles, Proctor is anxious to try her over 1 1/4 miles.

“I hope I’m right,” he said. “She behaves like a nice filly.”

Left a Message will be ridden by Yuichi Fukunaga, the leading rider in Japan who is spending the summer riding in the United States. Fukunaga was on the backstretch Wednesday morning, and had a brief visit with Proctor.

“She’s got a long stride,” Proctor told Fukunaga. “I think she’s got a big shot.”

The favorite will be Lady of Shamrock, the winner of three stakes at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. She was a troubled second, beaten a nose, in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap on June 9.

Colonial Flag, second in the Regret, and the English fillies Miss Cato and Nayarra will attract support.

Del Mar hires new starter

John Lopez, who has worked on starting gate crews in Southern California for 35 years, will be the starter at Del Mar for the upcoming summer meeting, which runs from Wednesday through Sept. 5.

Lopez is a one-season replacement for Gary Brinson, who will not work the season to spend time with his ailing father, former trainer Ross Brinson.

Lopez, 54, has worked on the gate crew at Del Mar for 26 years. He was hired to direct the starting gate team on Monday. The track announced his assignment on Tuesday.

In the past, Lopez has worked at all of the Southern California racetracks, and was the starter at the Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex Park in 2009. At the time, he filled in for Jay Slender, who was recovering from knee surgery.

Harmonious officially retires

Harmonious, a two-time Grade 1 winner in stakes for 3-year-old fillies in 2010, has been retired and will be bred in 2013, trainer John Shirreffs said.

Owned by breeders Pam and Marty Wygod, and their daughter Emily, Harmonious won 4 of 13 starts and $625,420. She was in peak form in the summer and fall of 2010, winning the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Stakes at Keeneland and finishing second in the Del Mar Oaks.

Harmonious was winless in six starts last year, including four second and third-place finishes in stakes. She made her final start in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs last November, finishing ninth.

Earlier this year, Harmonious was in training with Shirreffs before the decision was made to end her racing career.

“We started on her and she just wasn’t coming back,” he said.

Shirreffs described Harmonious as being “great to unbelievable” at the height of her career. No breeding arrangements have been finalized.

Shirreffs does not have a runner in this year’s American Oaks, but will start the stakes winner Blingo in the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on Wednesday. Shirreffs won the 2011 Oceanside with Mr. Commons.

Wednesday at Hollywood Park, Blingo worked five furlongs in 1:01 under jockey Mike Smith, who will have the mount in the Oceanside. Blingo won the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita in April.

Run over a mile on turf for 3-year-olds, the Oceanside will have a large field, and could be divided into two divisions for the first time since 2009.

The candidates includes Boat Trip, the winner of the Tsunami Slew Stakes on June 22, as well as Canuletmedowneasy, Chips All In, Handsome Mike, Holy Candy, Longview Drive, My Best Brother, Old Time Hockey, Stoney Fleece, and The Crooner.