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Hollywood Park roundup
At age 19, jockey Joe Talamo is supposed to be paying his dues while slowly establishing himself as a fixture in Southern California. Scratch that. The sociable and enthusiastic Talamo is arriving way ahead of time, and his five-win day Nov. 22 shot him to second in the standings and reaffirmed his reputation as one of the circuit's top riders.
Talamo cracked the top five the last three major meets (Hollywood spring, Del Mar, and Oak Tree), and he won 10 races from his first 37 mounts at the current fall meet. Talamo, whose five wins included Bickersons in the Moccasin Stakes, scored his first Breeders' Cup victory with Turf Sprint winner California Flag last month.
While jockeys Garrett Gomez, 37, and Mike Smith, 44, still command the plum stakes assignments, the future of the colony is in the hands of teenager Talamo and these young jockeys: Joel Rosario, 24; Alonso Quinonez, 26; Rafael Bejarano, 27; and Tyler Baze, 27.
Among trainers, Jorge Periban (3 for 11) is breaking out of an extended funk; Sal Gonzalez (3 for 5) posted recent upsets with $17 Malusita and $23.80 Go See Cecie; while Peter Miller had 2 wins and 2 seconds from his first 6 starters.
American Lion was expected to win the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue at odds of 7-10, and yes, he got the job done in his third career start. But the son of Tiznow has much to learn. His half-length victory in the seven-furlong stakes earned a moderate 83 Beyer, and both jockey Julien Leparoux and trainer Eoin Harty acknowledged afterward that American Lion needs to improve.
Leparoux said: "He needs to learn more and he's still a big baby. That's good, though, because he's still winning. When the other horse came up to him at the wire, he just took off again. It's not like he's tired or anything. He's just a little green, but he's a nice horse."
Harty said American Lion is "very sensible, but he's still unfocused. Coming down the stretch he was flicking his ears and looking at everything." Harty added: "At the three-eighths pole I thought he was in trouble. It looked like he was under a ride and going nowhere. But he got to running in the lane."
Sired by Tiznow, American Lion is expected to improve when he stretches out to 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19. His main rivals in that race are expected to be Lookin at Lucky and Noble's Promise, the two-three finishers in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The power shift among 2-year-olds is in full swing, and several high-profile types have not made the cut, including four trained by Bob Baffert. The colts Macias and Indian Firewater finished off the board in the Prevue; the fillies Miss Heather Lee and 7-5 favorite Crisis of Spirit finished two-four in the Moccasin.
Make Music for Me, dropping from graded stakes to face maidens in race 3 on Nov. 22, was the biggest flop of the week. Bet to 2-5, he got trapped behind a dawdling pace in the 1 1/16-mile race and finished sixth. It appears there will be no Futurity for him.
Look for a rider change next time for allowance turf filly Bombina, whose two U.S. starts under Victor Espinoza produced a bad-trip off-the-board effort Oct. 28, followed by a disappointing off-the-board finish Nov. 22 when she was keen and unrelaxed.
Daily Racing Form reported four main-track fatalities the second week of the meet. They were Bonnie Brown Eyes on Nov. 21 in race 9; Montezuma Mesa on Nov 22 at the end of a three-furlong workout; Sheza Screamer on Nov. 20 in race 2; and Holland Creek on Nov. 18 in race 5.
Speed continues to dominate on Cushion Track. After two weeks, there had been 31 main-track sprints at seven furlongs or less. Only seven of those races were won by a horse positioned more than two lengths off the lead after the opening quarter-mile. That means 77 percent (24 of 31) of the sprints were won by a horse setting the pace or within two lengths of the lead. There have been four races at 7 1/2 furlongs; closers won three.
Speed also remains effective in two-turn races. All three main-track route races Sunday, Nov. 22 were won by the pacesetter, although all three races unfolded at a slow pace. Overall, seven of the first 11 races at 1 1/16 miles were won by a horse setting the pace or within one length of the lead after the opening half-mile.
Five of the first 11 turf sprints were won gate to wire, but only one of the first 11 turf routes was won by the pacesetter. If the trend continues, Tuscan Evening could be in trouble when she sets the pace Saturday in the Grade 1 Matriarch at a mile on turf.
Ventura is expected to start favored Saturday in the Matriarch. The Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on Sunday is a wide-open 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-olds in which Battle of Hastings and Take the Points are among the early contenders.
The stakes action slows next week, and does not pick up again until the Grade 1's for 2-years-olds next month (CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19, Starlet for fillies on Dec. 20). Meanwhile, fillies and mares run 1 1/16 miles Dec. 5 in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap; sprinters go six furlongs Dec. 6 in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood.
DILEMMA OF THE WEEK
The impressive victory by Bickersons in the seven-furlong Moccasin Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Nov. 22 cleared misgivings about her quality. She won by 2 1/2 lengths with something left, and earned a solid 88 Beyer (5 points higher than the colt American Lion earned one day earlier in the seven-furlong Prevue).
But if Bickersons stretches out in the 1 1/16-mile Starlet, handicappers must address her potential distance limitations. Bickersons lost ground late in both her route races this fall at Santa Anita, third in the Oak Leaf and 10th in the BC Juvenile Fillies. The dilemma is whether those tiring finishes were the product of a surface that is demanding on speed, or if Bickersons would prefer to campaign in sprints.
At this point, you'd have to believe two-three Breeders' Cup finishers Beautician and Blind Luck hold the edge in the Starlet, while Moccasin third-place finisher It Tiz ran much better than the line shows and could be sitting on an upset.
PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK
The 6-year-old gelding Camisado won for the 12th time Nov. 20, rallying from behind to win an $8,000 claiming route for trainer Ed Moger. A 6-year-old gelding, Camisado achieved a rarity for a low-level claimer - the win was his fourth of 2009, and each win came at a different track, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Fairplex Park and Del Mar.
The consistent turf sprint filly Reba Is Tops returned to form Nov. 20 by winning an allowance, which was her 10th win from 20 starts. She was ridden by Talamo and is trained by Mark Glatt.
Group 1-placed Loup Breton stamped himself as a potential player in the shallow West Coast turf division by rolling to an off-the-pace score in a fast-pace allowance Nov. 19. He was adding Lasix for his U.S. debut for trainer Julio Canani, and got a dream pace scenario to flatter his style. He still has questions to answer and is likely to be overbet the next time he runs.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Marty Jones
Last race: Nov. 18, 6th
Finish: 2nd by 1/2
This back-class veteran ran super in the $40,000 claiming sprint but was compromised by the kamikaze tactics of jockey Martin Pedroza on eventual last-place Six Pack Abs. High Standards broke first, but Six Pack Abs was sent inside by Pedroza, who engaged the front-runner while keeping Six Pack Abs under a drive through fast fractions before wilting. High Standards shook off his pace foe, battled between horses to the wire, but got collared late. A 6-for-24 gelding, High Standards can beat similar next time in a race with less heat.
Trainer: Jay Robbins
Last race: Nov. 18, 5th
Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4
A 4-year-old English import whose U.S. career was a futile series of turf routes, this claiming filly found her niche sprinting on the main track. She lagged off a hot pace, unleashed a sharp rally through the turn, and then got stopped cold in a traffic jam at the head of the lane where a rival broke down. She somehow got going again and was narrowing the gap late. Carnival Queen is a disappointing 1 for 19, but can win a main-track restricted claimer next time in a race with speed to run at.
Trainer: Leonard Powell
Last race: Nov. 21, 7th
Finish: 5th by 3
This 5-year-old was a bleeder in Australia and imported to the United States to take advantage of anti-bleeder medication. He returned to form and had won his previous start, but was run into the ground by a longshot front-runner in this $50,000 turf route claimer. Nericon King made the lead, was hounded through a fast 46.37-second half, shook loose into the lane, and then hit a wall. It was a good try under the compromising pace scenario, and the front-runner could be tough to catch next time in a route with less speed. While either surface is acceptable, his style suggests he could be tough to catch on Cushion Track.
Trainer: Mark Glatt
Last race: Nov. 22, 8th
Finish: 3rd by 5
A 2-year-old allowance-caliber filly surprisingly bet to 3.10-1 in the Moccasin Stakes while adding blinkers and shortening to one turn, she had everything working against her in the seven-furlong stakes. She raced between horses early, was shuffled to last midway on the turn, lost considerable ground rallying wide into the lane, then went evenly to the finish in a race won by the rail-skimming front-runner. It Tiz wants two turns and will enter the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 20 as a live longshot.