05/06/2011 4:28PM

Hollywood Park: Shot at Belmont Stakes on the line in Alydar Stakes

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Awesome Patriot could earn a trip to the Belmont with a win Sunday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – For a $70,000 race, the Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park on Sunday carries significant importance.

Trainers Bob Baffert and Simon Callaghan have three starters between them and consider the race a prep to the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 11, if one of them were to win.

Baffert starts Awesome Patriot, who was sixth in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March, and Uncle Sam, who has won 2 of 3 starts, including an optional claimer over a mile at Santa Anita on April 3. Callaghan starts Clarke Lane, who was a fast-closing second to Uncle Sam in his U.S. debut.

Both trainers insist that victories are necessary to try the third leg of the Triple Crown.

“I want to get a race into” Uncle Sam, Baffert said. “If he runs well, I could run him in the Belmont or something else.”

Baffert was less specific about plans for Awesome Patriot, should he win the third race of his career in the Alydar.

“He’s coming back around on me,” Baffert said. “He’s training well. It’s hard to find spots for them. We can put him on the road, maybe go somewhere else.”

Clarke Lane was briefly considered for the Blue Grass Stakes on April 16 before Callaghan opted to give the colt additional time between starts.

“He’s definitely sharpened up a lot from his first race,” Callaghan said. “I’ve noticed in his breezes that he’s lifted his game.”

As for the Belmont, Callaghan said, “We need to win. We’ve got to let the horse do the talking. He has to warrant it, basically.”

The Alydar Stakes is run over 1 1/8 miles and drew a field of five, all of which are seeking their first stakes wins. Burns, who was fifth in the $150,000 Snow Chief Stakes for statebreds here April 23, and Red Sharp Humor, a maiden race winner at Santa Anita in February, are the other starters.

Uncle Sam is likely to lead, with Awesome Patriot and Red Sharp Humor racing near the front. Burns and Clarke Lane are closers. Trainer Barry Abrams is hoping that jockey Garrett Gomez can urge Burns to settle and make a late run.

“I hope Garrett rides like the horse wants to be ridden,” Abrams said. “He has the style of Zenyatta. If he learns how to relax, he’s got the quality and ability to be a good horse at longer distances. But in his mind, he wants to go now.”

Clarke Lake closed more than seven lengths in the final furlong of the optional claimer over a mile on April 3, but Callaghan said the colt could be closer to the pace.

“I don’t want to totally change the way he ran well the first time,” he said. “I think he will be sharper.”

Mr. Commons still eyeing Preakness

Mr. Commons, who finished third behind Kentucky Derby entrants Midnight Interlude and Comma to the Top in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9, worked seven furlongs in 1:26.20 at Hollywood Park on Friday and remains a candidate for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21.

Trainer John Shirreffs said that Mr. Commons will have another workout next Saturday. Following that, a decision will be made on the Preakness with owner Ian Banwell.

“We’ll try to make it,” Shirreffs said.

Temple’s Door impresses in turf win

Temple’s Door has turf stakes in his long-term future after winning an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf Thursday, but that may not happen for the 3-year-old until late summer.

There are no major turf stakes for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park during the current spring-summer meeting, though track officials said earlier this year that an overnight stakes may be carded.

Regardless, Temple’s Door belongs at that level after Thursday’s race, in which he stalked the pace to the final turn and won by 1 3/4 lengths over the 9-year-old Porfido.

“As soon as he got free, he took off,” trainer Carla Gaines said. “He’s just learning and he’ll improve.”

Owned by Elizabeth Truman, Temple’s Door won his debut in a $50,000 claimer for maidens on turf at Santa Anita last month. Temple’s Door has impressed Gaines and Truman, considering he is not the biggest colt in the barn.

“He’s about this tall,” Gaines said, holding her hand about waist-high.

Ex-trainer Champagne dies at 78

Gerald Champagne, a retired trainer who spent nearly 50 years involved in various aspects of racing, died in Desert Falls, Calif., on Tuesday, according to his son, Wes, a noted farrier at Southern California racetracks.

Gerald Champagne was 78 and had been ill in recent months, his son said.

Known to friends as Jerry, Champagne began riding at the age of 15 in the mid-Atlantic and New England and later rode in California and at Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. Champagne switched to training in the 1960s and trained in Mexico and California until he retired in the 1990s, his son said. He was one of Caliente’s top trainers before Thoroughbred racing stopped there in the early 1990s.

Burial and memorial services will be private.