11/15/2012 1:52PM

Hollywood Park: On Trust poses distance, surface questions for Maui Mark

Benoit & Associates
Maui Mark may prefer dirt to synthetic and a distance shorter than the 7 1/2 furlongs of the On Trust Handicap.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Since being claimed for $20,000 in March, Maui Mark has earned owners Mike Carter and Charles Galea $141,018 in five starts.

The earnings can move even closer to $200,000 if Maui Mark can win his second consecutive stakes in Saturday’s $75,000 On Trust Handicap for California-breds at Betfair Hollywood Park. In his last start, the 7-year-old Maui Mark won his first stakes in his 26th career start in the California Cup Sprint over six furlongs at Santa Anita on Oct. 13.

The On Trust Handicap is run over 7 1/2 furlongs, and the distance is one of three questions surrounding the race that concerns Maui Mark’s trainer, Bob Hess Jr.

“Is he as good as some of the better horses in the race?” Hess said. “It’s not an easy race.”

[BETFAIR HOLLYWOOD: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

The only other 2012 stakes winner in the field is Red Sun, who won the Lure Stakes on turf at Santa Anita last month. The field of eight also includes Mensa Heat and Legal Separation, who were first and second in the 2011 On Trust, but eighth and sixth in the Cal Cup Sprint, and Macho Dorado, a game second in an allowance race at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

The surface is another issue. Maui Mark is winless in two career starts on Hollywood Park’s synthetic track. Hess even moved the horse to New York over the summer to run in starter handicaps for low-priced claimers, a decision that led to two wins at Belmont Park.

“He’ll run on anything when he’s right,” Hess said. “He’s put weight on. I think he’s going into this race better than last time.

“Is he as good on synthetic? We really liked turf or dirt and they write those starters in New York.”

The distance is the final issue. Maui Mark has run in races at five furlongs to about 6 1/2 furlongs in the last two years. In his last race at a mile, he finished 10th in an optional claimer on turf at Del Mar in August 2010. He was fourth, beaten three-quarters of a length, in an optional claimer over a mile at Del Mar in 2009.

The presence of jockey Garrett Gomez, who often uses a patient style, gives Hess a sense of relief concerning the distance.

“With Garrett Gomez, I don’t worry as much about the 7 1/2” furlongs, he said. “But, it is a question mark.”

In the Cal Cup Sprint, Maui Mark was sixth in a field of nine on the backstretch and closed on the outside to win by a half-length. It was his first start since a fifth in a starter handicap at Saratoga in July. Hess said that Maui Mark emerged from the Saratoga race with a pulled muscle that required a break.

When Maui Mark won the California Cup Sprint, he proved he was back. The result was a far cry from the expectations held on the day he was claimed.

“We were hoping he’d be worth $25,000,” Hess said.