06/29/2012 4:03PM

Hollywood Park: Rivals meet again in Kerlan

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Benoit & Associates
Rauschenberg's form has improved markedly since he was gelded.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The connections of Obviously expect a subtle equipment change to make a difference Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park, where he renews a rivalry with Rauschenberg, whose improved form coincided with a not-so-subtle change in gender.

The geldings Obviously and Rauschenberg meet in the $68,000 Robert Kerlan Memorial Handicap, a six-furlong turf stakes that attracted a solid field including 2011 Kerlan winner Gallant Son, good miler John Johny Jak, and razor-sharp Comma to the Top.

The field includes just two front-runners – Obviously and Comma to the Top, who also was entered in Saturday’s Triple Bend Handicap. Trainer Peter Miller planned to run Comma to the Top on Sunday, providing a target for Obviously and pace for closer Rauschenberg.

Obviously is trained by Mike Mitchell, whose assistant Phil D’Amato will run the stable while Mitchell recovers from surgery to remove a brain tumor. Before Mitchell left, he and D’Amato discussed a change for Obviously.

“In the past, he has broken a step or two slow, and wants to rush up,”

D’Amato said, “He wants to run off, so we changed some equipment on him.”

Obviously will wear an “Australian ring bit” designed to give jockey Joe Talamo greater control. “We’ve used it successfully on other horses,” D’Amato said. “It has a check on it, so when the rider takes hold it gives him more control.”

An import from Europe, Obviously has won one of four in the United States. In his last start, Obviously broke slowly, contested the pace, and then got collared by a familiar rival, Rauschenberg. He and Obviously have met twice, each finishing ahead of the other.

Finishing first was not a priority for Rauschenberg early in his career. He had 1 win and 5 seconds his first 11 starts. The string frustrated trainer Marty Jones. “I didn’t think he was giving us what he had,” Jones said. Finally, in summer 2011, Jones castrated Rauschenberg.

“Once we gelded him, he just seemed like he put his mind on winning,” Jones said. Eight starts as a gelding produced three wins and a perfect record in Hollywood turf sprints – 3 for 3 in allowance races, ridden to victory each time by Garrett Gomez.

Ironically, it was Gomez who gave Obviously’s trainer Mitchell the idea two years ago to use the Australian ring bit on certain horses.

Sunday, Gomez will try to defeat the Mitchell-trained Obviously with deep closer Rauschenberg.

“I get along with [Rauschenberg] pretty well,” Gomez said. “He’s run a little bit faster this year, and he’s a little bit older. He’s a classy horse, and likes Hollywood Park.”

Comma to the Top, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity two years ago, led gate to wire in a recent comeback at Golden Gate. He has won 8 races and $835,300 from 18 starts, and is expected to set the pace under Kevin Krigger.

John Johnny Jak returns from a seven-month layoff, while Gallant Son makes his third start back. The field also includes off-form runners Great Warrior, Victory Pete, and Dancing in Silks, 0 for 11 since winning the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.