11/25/2011 3:35PM

Hollywood Park: Pace should benefit Battle Force in Generous Stakes


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Before leaving town for the Breeders’ Cup, jockey Mike Smith offered a warning to Brice Blanc, one-race substitute rider for Battle Force in a mile turf race for 2-year-old maidens at Santa Anita.

“Don’t get too attached,” Smith said.

It is easy to see why. Battle Force and Blanc stormed from ninth to first, with a burst of late speed that could make him favored Sunday for the third start of his career in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds at Hollywood Park.

“I thought it was very impressive,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “He has matured so much in such a short time.”

Battle Force and Smith are reunited Sunday, and a continuation of his upward cycle will make him tough to beat in the $100,000 Generous, which is race 5 on a 10-race card headlined by the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

The nine-runner field for the Generous includes sharp maiden sprint winner Handsome Mike, European import Blue White Fire, and stakes-placed runners Motown Men, Senor Rain, and Stoney Fleece. Major Magic, 2 for 2 at Charles Town and Colonial, makes his California debut; Got Even and Devil in Disguise are outsiders.

In the three weeks since his maiden win, Battle Force continues to improve.

“Mike [Smith] worked him last time and said he just felt great,” Shirreffs said.

A closer, he benefits from an abundance of pace. Motown Men, Senor Rain and Got Even are all front-runners.

While the long-range significance of an autumn turf race is debatable, the possibility of switching to dirt is always on the table for future Derby candidates. Shirreffs was asked if Battle Force, owned by Woodford Racing, might try a dirt experiment at some point.

“I would think we would, somewhere,” Shirreffs said. “Plus, Giant’s Causeways go both ways anyway, so it’s not that much of a reach.”

The same applies to Handsome Mike, whose turf sprint victory on Oct. 16 was just his second career start. Trained by Melody Conlon, Handsome Mike is owned and bred by John Liviakis.

“We think we’ve got something good here,” Liviakis said. “Right now, he’s got to prove himself.”

A son of Scat Daddy, Handsome Mike has three solid works since raced and should handle the one-mile distance. Smith rode Handsome Mike last time; Rafael Bejarano takes over Sunday.

European shipper Blue White Fire, 1 for 4 in Ireland, cleared quarantine Nov. 18 and has been training all week at Hollywood. Dermot Weld trains the colt; Garrett Gomez will ride.