12/07/2011 3:02PM

Hollywood Park: Champions Gate tries turf in sprint

Benoit & Associates
Runstevierun, winner of the C.B. Afflerbaugh Stakes at Fairplex Park, is the lone stakes winner in Friday's optional claiming feature at Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – A fifth-place finish by Champions Gate in the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Oct. 29 has changed the gelding’s direction this winter. No more dirt races at Santa Anita.

Instead, trainer Mike Machowsky wants to keep Champions Gate on synthetic tracks or turf courses. The first opportunity is Friday’s sixth race at Hollywood Park, when Champions Gate starts in an optional claimer over six furlongs on turf for 2-year-olds.

“I think he’s more of a synthetic or grass-type horse,” Machowsky said. “He didn’t run so well on the dirt at Santa Anita. I’ll have to pick my spots.”

Friday’s race at Hollywood Park will be Champions Gate’s turf debut. So far this year, he has made two starts on Del Mar’s Polytrack synthetic surface, and one on dirt at Santa Anita.

By Pure Prize, Champions Gate beat statebred maidens at Del Mar on Aug. 7 and was second in the I’m Smokin Stakes over six furlongs behind Ruler of Dubai on Sept. 5. Sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the Cal Cup Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles, Champions Gate was fifth or sixth early and finished 7 1/4 lengths behind Rousing Sermon.

Champions Gate is part of a field of eight Friday, and faces open company for the first time. The race features one stakes winner in Runstevierun, who won the C.B. Afflerbaugh Stakes over seven furlongs at Fairplex Park on Sept. 14 but is winless in two subsequent starts, including a last-place finish in a field of six in the Real Quiet Stakes here Nov. 12. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Runstevierun drew the outside post.

Champions Gate and Runstevierun must catch Sweet Swap, trained by John Sadler. Sweet Swap was an impressive winner of a maiden race at Del Mar on Aug. 20, but was a disappointing fifth in a field of six behind Secret Circle in the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 10. Secret Circle later won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Sweet Swap is likely to set the pace under jockey Garrett Gomez, who rides the Candy Ride colt for the first time. Got Even, a two-time winner, may show speed, although he was eighth in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes on turf here Nov. 27.

It is Sweet Swap who poses the greatest threat to Champions Gate, Machowsky said.

“I think Sadler’s horse will be tough,” he said.