12/12/2013 1:13PM

Hollywood Park: Tactical change makes Rousing Sermon dangerous in Native Diver

Benoit & Associates
Rousing Sermon has been far more effective as a stalker this season.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Rousing Sermon is not the same colt this year as he was in 2012.

A change in tactics, racing closer to the pace, has put Rousing Sermon in the winner’s circle in two of his last three starts. He has won three times this year following a winless campaign in eight starts in 2012.

One missing aspect of Rousing Sermon’s career is a graded stakes win, an accomplishment that could be achieved in Saturday’s $150,000 Native Diver Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park. The Grade 3 Native Diver is run over 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic track that the 4-year-old Rousing Sermon has proven to like.

Rousing Sermon won the On Trust Handicap for California-breds at Hollywood Park on Nov. 24 and was second in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in 2011. Back then, Rousing Sermon closed from well off the pace, a style that led to a win in the 2011 California Cup Juvenile. In recent starts, he has raced from just behind the leaders.

“We have been trying to make that his new tactic,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “I think it works. He can do what the rider wants.”

Hollendorfer has a strong team in the Native Diver. He runs Blueskiesnrainbows, who was second in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon over 1 3/4 miles at Santa Anita on Nov. 1; and Hear the Ghost, a 3-year-old who won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita last March.

[CashCall Futurity: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

Blueskiesnrainbows led in the stretch of the BC Marathon and was beaten a length by surprise winner London Bridge.

“He’s run on the front end and off the pace,” Hollendorfer said of Blueskiesnrainbows. “He’s run well enough to start in the good races.”

The field of nine includes seven stakes winners. Drill won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity in 2011, but is winless in eight starts this year, all in stakes. Slim Shadey has won three turf stakes, but has never run on a synthetic track. The Native Diver will be his 32nd start.

“It’s something we’ve never tried before,” trainer Simon Callaghan said of the surface. “There is no standout in the race.”

The two runners without stakes wins are notable – Setsuko and Soi Phet.

Soi Phet was claimed for $16,000 by trainer Leonard Powell in May and won his next four starts, a streak that ended with a third in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 28 behind eventual BC Classic winner Mucho Macho Man. On Oct. 31, Soi Phet was fourth of five in the one-mile Big Bear Stakes behind Majestic City, Rousing Sermon, and Drill.

Setsuko has not started since finishing second to Ron the Greek in the Santa Anita Handicap in 2012, a layoff caused by a suspensory injury.

“I think he’s pretty fit,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “He’ll probably need one to be at his best.

“We’ve given him a lot of time, and he’s doing well.”