04/27/2012 3:26PM

Hollywood Park: Nereid returns as Wilshire favorite

Benoit & Associates
Nereid will make her first start since last fall in Sunday’s Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Three top females trained by John Shirreffs will play leading roles this summer in California turf stakes.

Nereid, Star Billing, and Harmonious – remember them? – have not raced in more than five months. But the end of winter marks the return of Shirreffs’s Grade 1-winning trio, and Nereid is first off the bench Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park.

“She was the first one back in training, so she’s the first one ready,” Shirreffs said.

As the 121-pound topweight, the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap at a mile on grass is Nereid’s for the taking.

Eight entered the Wilshire, and Nereid is expected to go favored in her first start since last fall at Keeneland and first start at Hollywood since a dead-heat win last summer in the Grade 1 American Oaks. The Wilshire is only a comeback, but 3-for-6 Nereid is ready.

“She has trained well,” Shirreffs said and answered affirmatively when asked if Nereid can win first start back. “She can, yes, if she gets out of the gate well and doesn’t have too many cobwebs.”

Though facing older winners for the first time, 4-year-old Nereid should defeat the otherwise evenly matched field that includes Briecat, Antares World, Quiet Oasis, Wild Mia, Imperialistic Diva, Up In Time, and Go Forth North.

Nereid developed rapidly last summer. She won a maiden race May 7, an allowance June 2, and six weeks later dead-heated with Cambina in the Grade 1 American Oaks. After finishing third in the Del Mar Oaks and Queen Elizabeth Cup at Keeneland, Nereid called it a season with three wins from six career starts and $238,800 for owner Eric Kronfeld.

Joe Talamo rode Nereid in all six starts, but the Rock Hard Ten filly’s 2012 campaign will be under Mike Smith.

“Joe did a great job for us, we were really happy,” Shirreffs said. “But Mike is kind of my go-to guy, and coming off a layoff we made a change.”

Talamo ended up with a “live” Wilshire mount, anyway. He rides Briecat, a 7-year-old expected to set the pace. Briecat is 10 for 32 and a graded winner on the Hollywood turf. She is trained by Vladimir Cerin, who entered the weekend having won nine races from his last 17 starters in Southern California.

The Wilshire leads to the Grade 1 Gamely, a $250,000 turf race at 1 1/8 miles on May 28.

As for Nereid’s teammates, Star Billing and Harmonious will be along soon enough, according to Shirreffs.

“Nereid runs [Sunday], possibly Star Billing in the Redondo Beach [June 10], and Harmonious down the road,” he said. “They’re staggered, which is nice.”.