05/29/2012 2:16PM

Hollywood Park: Morning Line marches to own beat

Shigeki Kikkawa
Morning Line, with Joe Talamo riding, wins the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Morning Line can be described in several ways – millionaire, multiple stakes winner, independent thinker.

Earlier this month, he displayed all those characteristics before a win in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park. At post time, eight of the nine runners were assembled near the starting gate.

Morning Line was almost a quarter-mile away, at the top of the stretch, with jockey Joe Talamo off the horse.

It took coaxing from a pony boy, an outrider, the track veterinarian, and Talamo to get Morning Line to the gate. He arrived a few minutes late, left the gate in front, and led throughout the Mervyn LeRoy.

The win was Morning Line’s third stakes victory of his career in his first start for trainer John Shirreffs. The California circuit had a much-needed new member to the handicap division, albeit one with flaky tendencies.

How much Morning Line can accomplish this year will be better known after Saturday’s $150,000 Californian Stakes, a key prep for the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 7. So far this year, preparing Morning Line has been both a frustration and fascination for Shirreffs.

“Hmm, he’s been a pleasure,” Shirreffs said, with a wry grin. “I wish everyone had one just like him.”

At times, Shirreffs says, the horse is easy to work with, and other times, he can be ornery.

“He’s an independent thinker,” Shirreffs said after the Mervyn LeRoy.

Owned by Will Farish, Dixiana Stable, and Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable, Morning Line has won 5 of 13 starts and $1,212,300. Previously trained by Nick Zito, Morning Line was well accomplished before joining Shirreffs’s stable last fall. He won the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing in September 2010 and was a heart-breaking second, by a head to Dakota Phone, in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs that fall.

As a 4-year-old in 2011, Morning Line had mixed form. He won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap over seven furlongs at Aqueduct in April, but was fifth in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park in July and last of 11 in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga in August. The Whitney was Morning Line’s final start for Zito.

Typical of a Shirreffs-trained runner, Morning Line was given ample preparation for a comeback, with 16 workouts from early January to early May.

To keep him interested, there is diversity in the way he is trained. Morning Line jogs on Hollywood Park’s backstretch training track and is galloped on the main track.

“He’s probably too smart for us,” Shirreffs said.

Talamo rode Morning Line for the first time in the Mervyn LeRoy. He said the horse is different in training or warmups than he is in a race.

“They do a good job with him in the mornings,” he said. “You have to be patient and take your time. He’s got his own way of thinking. He’s a Cadillac in a race.”

The Shirreffs stable has a history with top horses that did not warm up for long before a race. Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year, often walked into the racetrack for a post parade, strolled under jockey Mike Smith for a furlong or so down the stretch, did little or nothing for five minutes, and then was walked to the starting gate.

Shirreffs said Zenyatta knew the routine and that standing in the middle of the stretch was normal.

“She knew, this is my rest area,” he said. “She stood there, took a few deep breaths, and then went to the gate.”

As evidenced by his win in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, Morning Line can be outstanding in his races. Shirreffs said he was not fully aware of the horse’s past before he did Internet research to watch replays.

“The courage he exhibits in his races is unbelievable,” Shirreffs said. “I watched some of his races on YouTube, and you can see his determination.

“I didn’t know his record, but when I looked at the videos I got excited.”

For Saturday, Shirreffs and Talamo will be better prepared before the Californian. Shirreffs told the jockey not to take Morning Line around the final turn during warmups for the Mervyn Leroy with good reason.

“We won’t have him get so far from the gate,” Shirreffs said. “I told Joe before the last race, ‘Don’t go around the turn in case you can’t get back.’ ”

Saturday, Morning Line will not travel far – before the start. When the race begins, he will be the one to catch.

Chantal Smithless More than 1 year ago
With this type of "personality" he couldn't be in a better barn than with John Shirreffs! John is not just a trainer he is a HORSEMAN and that is why he has such success with these types of horses. I predict a BIG remainder of 2012 for Morning Line!
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
reminds me of Liberian Freighter - made his comeback a fine 3rd in the American this year. Last year, I cancelled a wager on him when he would not load and then he wired them! Morning Line was the same for me this year - long layoff, the horse looked washed out and he would not move. I left him off my ticket and paid for it. Why try and compare him to Tiznow? Why denigrate him for running a bad race or two? Horses are not machines - the trick is know when and if they may pop! Why the negativity on the horses here - we have what we have - if you don't like it don't bet. I feel like this board is filled is with people complaining - if a race does not work for you, don't play it, but hold your mud as it is super boring!
Gee More than 1 year ago
Another east coast shipper catchin a soft group.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
It's all about certain divsions. The West Coast 3 year old males have dominated repeatedly this year. And I don't expect many East Coast sprinters to come out West and win big races, particularly at 6 furlongs. As for the marathon turf division, neither region is strong, but California does have champion Acclamation. The West Coast handicap division certainly was shallow this winter. But it was really hurt by Game on Dude going to Dubai. Game on Dude was the best older male horse on dirt at 10 furlongs last year, and he loves Santa Anita, where the Breeder's Cup will be run. The Eastern handicap horses are much deeper, but I'm not sure how many true 10 furlong horses there are among them. When the horses reach the BC Classic, those based in Cali will have had 3 opportunities to run 10 furlongs in a grade 1, those back East just one(and that one around one turn). The strength of the older females is clearly back East. The same is true of the turf females and the 3 year old fillies, except for Contested. The male turf milers appear to be deeper back East, although I don't see any superstars on either coast. In any event, it's really unfair to compare "East" vs. "West", because "West" is basically just California while the "East" can include not just the Florida-NYRA circuit but New Jersey, Penn, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oaklawn, and Chicago.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Like Contested in the Acorn?
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
chip off the old block,tiznow was the same way.
Gee More than 1 year ago
No where near as tough as Tiznow!! ML has looked very mediocer at times.
Daddy More than 1 year ago
My Boy Morning Line, LOVE HIM!!!