05/11/2011 2:24PM

Hollywood Park: War Pilot matured for return


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The 2-year-old campaign of War Pilot was cut short by necessity last fall.

“He needed time to catch up,” trainer Mike Pender said. “He has had some minor hiccups along the way, but mostly it was to allow his mind to catch up to his frame.”

Six months after winning a maiden race on turf, War Pilot makes his 3-year-old debut in a $52,000 allowance race over six furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park on Friday evening. Pender has noticed mental changes in recent months, including a quick five-furlong workout on turf in 59.80 seconds last Sunday.

“He was not that kind of workhorse as a 2-year-old,” Pender said. “We’re seeing things that make us hopeful.

“As a 2-year-old, he was on the immature side, but he had this gigantic body. His mind has taken a little bit of time to catch up. Now, it seems like all the parts are working together. It’s kind of exciting for us.”

Owned by B.J. Wright, War Pilot needed four races to beat maidens, doing so in a race over 1 1/16 miles on turf last November.

Friday’s race will be War Pilot’s first start in a turf sprint, and one that Pender and Wright hope will lead to stakes races around two turns on turf at Del Mar this summer. “This is a stepping-stone toward that,” Pender said.

War Pilot is the lone 3-year-old in a field of six. Most of the runners have started in allowance races or claiming races in recent starts. Markyg, a 5-year-old gelding, makes his U.S. debut nearly two years after finishing last of 20 in the Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot in England.

Friday’s race will be the third start of the year for Vaundell, a highly-promising 5-year-old gelding trained by Carla Gaines. A winner of 2 of 6 starts for co-owners John Harris and Per Antonsen, Vaundell made two starts in 2009, two starts last year and was fifth and third in sprints at Santa Anita earlier this year.

“He’s doing great, but he’s a delicate horse,” Gaines said. “This is his distance.”

Vaundell was third in an allowance race on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on April 17, closing well in the last furlong. Rafael Bejarano, who rode Vaundell to wins in 2009 and 2010, has the mount for the first time this year.