04/29/2011 1:32PM

Hollywood Park: Separate Forest tops speed-filled Time to Leave Stakes

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – When the filly Separate Forest dropped into a claiming race for the first time Jan. 14, trainer Doug O’Neill believed that despite her declining form, the potential reward outweighed the risk.

“We thought she was a filly that was definitely worth what she was in for,” O’Neill said, referring to the $25,000 tag. “And if we got lucky at all, we thought she might be worth a little bit more.”

It turns out she is worth a whole lot more. Separate Forest won for Richard Mandella the day she was claimed, gained confidence, and subsequently improved by winning three turf races and $123,120 in four starts.

The past five years, O’Neill has claimed at least 14 horses from Mandella.

“He’s a very good caretaker, so he’s a good guy to claim off of,” O’Neill said. “He often leaves a lot in the tank.”

While a recent victory in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas cemented Separate Forest’s future broodmare value, O’Neill and owners Pablo Suarez, Mark Verge, and Darin Tsukashima also got lucky when Separate Forest’s 3-year-old half-brother Indiano arrived in the United States.

Indiano won all five starts in Panama and recently finished second in the Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream. He was scheduled to start Saturday in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.

“Now the female side is getting hot, so there’s definitely some residual value there as we move forward,” O’Neill said.

Separate Forest, sired by Forestry and produced by the Group 1-winning Chilean import Separata, has won has won 5 of 9 overall.

On Sunday at Hollywood Park, Separate Forest makes her first start on a synthetic surface when she goes five furlongs on Cushion Track in the $70,000 Time to Leave Stakes. Aside from surface, the filly-mare sprint is loaded with speed.

“It’s definitely a change,” O’Neill admits. “This track is not as kind to speed as the hillside course at Santa Anita.”

Six of the seven in the Time to Leave Stakes are front-runners. Separate Forest and jockey Pat Valenzuela will have company, and if the fractions get too hot, it may benefit the only closer in the field. That is Bob Baffert-trained comebacker Irish Gypsy.

O’Neill and Separate Forest’s owners considered shipping Separate Forest to Kentucky for the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, but decided instead to enter the Time to Leave.

Other starters include Holding Her Ground, Saint Isabelle, Dawnie Macho, Candy’s Pleasure, and Shakenwithanolive.