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Hot Cha Cha can make a name for his trainer
By Marty McGee
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – A list of the winning trainers in Beverly D. history is not unlike a Who’s Who of racing. Names such as Whittingham, Mandella, Mott, Frankel, and Clement run rampant, serving to suggest that only big-timers apply when the Beverly D. is run every summer at Arlington Park.
Looking to defy this trend is Phil Sims, a self-proclaimed Kentucky boy whose 30-year training career hit its peak last October when he sent out Hot Cha Cha to win the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at his home track of Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Sims will try the 21st Beverly D. on Saturday with Hot Cha Cha, fully aware that his more famous training colleagues have tended to dominate the Grade 1 race.
“Well, we kind of snuck in on the royalty last fall at Keeneland,” Sims, 48, said with a laugh. “Maybe we can do it again.”
In a race that lost its clear-cut favorite with the Aug. 8 death of Tuscan Evening, Hot Cha Cha looks about as good as anything else. Ten fillies and mares were entered Tuesday morning, with Rainbow View, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, a 4-1 morning-line choice atop a veritable cluster, including Hot Cha Cha, the fifth choice at 6-1.
“It was a real shame what happened with Tuscan Evening,” said Sims, reflecting a commonly held sentiment among the Beverly D. participants. “Obviously it opens up the race a lot. We’re going in thinking we have as much chance as anybody else.”
Hot Cha Cha, 4, was bred and is owned by Nelson McMakin, a Lexington businessman who hired Sims as a youth. “We’ve been together 25 years now, maybe longer,” said McMakin. “I mainly just breed my own to race. I don’t spend hundreds of thousands on horses. I just want to pay my bills and have a little fun, and that’s what Hot Cha Cha is letting us do.”
Hot Cha Cha has earned $743,052 from 16 races, all of them respectable, some even outstanding. Her Beyer Speed Figures have steadily improved and are now approaching triple digits, a range that puts her on a par with the other Beverly D. favorites. Her four starts this year have been remarkably consistent, Beyer-wise and style-wise, and with longshot Romacaca likely to cut out a solid pace Saturday, Sims is hoping Hot Cha Cha can rally from a mid-pack position to give him and McMakin their biggest victory ever.
“She’s the kind of horse that always tries hard and always shows up,” said Sims, who into this week had 340 career wins. “This looks like a really good, competitive race. We’re part of the mix.”
McMakin noted that Rainbow View might be given a slight edge by horseplayers Saturday simply because of Sheppard, a member of the racing Hall of Fame for 20 years. After all, the Beverly D. has been the domain of highly decorated horsemen.
“That’s fine,” said McMakin. “Phil and I have had a great relationship for years. He’s been honest and fair, and that’s part of what’s made the business enjoyable for me. We’ve had a whole lot of calls from the bigger outfits looking to buy this filly, but we’re just going to hold on to her and hopefully have some more fun with her.”
Von Helmel has special juvenile
Don Von Hemel, father of trainers Donnie and Kelly Von Hemel, is 76 now. His stable, which consisted of 40 or so horses not too long ago, has been reduced to 15 head. But for years and years, Von Hemel has been able to come up with a talented 2-year-old or three every season, and he just might have his best one yet this summer at Arlington. The senior Von Hemel never has started a horse in a Breeders’ Cup race, but if all goes well between now and early November, a 2-year-old colt named Sherriff Cogburn could take him there.
Sherriff Cogburn, a Vindication colt owned by the Dream Walkin Farm of Toby Keith, broke from the rail in his five-furlong Polytrack debut here July 1, and came up the fence from behind horses to win by seven lengths. On Aug. 6, Sherriff Cogburn raced at Prairie Meadows, going one mile around two turns on dirt in the Prairie Juvenile Mile. Again, Sherriff Cogburn and jockey Tanner Riggs found themselves caught inside and behind horses, and again, Sherriff Cogburn destroyed his rivals with a powerful from the quarter pole to the finish, winning off by more than nine lengths.
“I thought he was an exceptional 2-year-old before he started,” Von Hemel said Tuesday morning. “I didn’t know how good he was, though.”
Sherriff Cogburn raced in Donnie Von Hemel’s name last out at Prairie because Don was not licensed as a trainer in Iowa this year. But he is back in the senior Von Hemel’s barn at Arlington, and will run for Don in his next start, the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 11.
“He’s very professional,” said Von Hemel. “Got a heck of a mind on him. Take him to the paddock, he just stands there and watches.”
Von Hemel said Keith had explored selling half of Sherriff Cogburn earlier in the summer, but that a deal had fallen through, and that Sherriff Cogburn, a $50,000 yearling, was not actively been shopped right now.
Peitz doing well in new role
Trainer Dan Peitz’s last Grade 1 starter was Steppenwolfer, who finished third behind Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby. But, somewhat out of the blue, Peitz will be back in Grade 1 on Saturday when he saddles Tajaaweed in the Arlington Million.
Tajaaweed will be one of two horses starting for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum in the Million, though both race under the banner of Shadwell Stable, with manager Rick Nichols listed as the Shadwell principal. Peitz has trained Shadwell spillover for years, and it was in part to give some Shadwell horses more opportunity on Arlington turf and Polytrack that Peitz came here for the first time this summer. And a solid Arlington debut it has been for Peitz, who previously had stabled in New York this time of year. Through last week’s racing, his barn had won 11 races from 48 starters at the ongoing meet.
One of those wins came with Tajaaweed, who captured a second-level turf allowance race in impressive fashion here May 16, his first start in 11 months, and his first race on this side of the Atlantic. Tajaaweed won the Dee Stakes, an Epsom Derby trial in 2008, but finished eighth in the Derby itself, and failed to win again during the rest of the European phase of his career.
Tajaaweed followed up his Arlington comeback score with a fifth-place finish as the favorite in a third-level Churchill Downs turf allowance June 20, but the 5-year-old Dynaformer horse got back on track here July 17, rallying from 11th to finish a gaining third behind Rahystrada and Just as Well in the Arlington Handicap.
Tajaaweed has worked three times since then, and appears to be coming up to the Million in fine condition. He had a fast 46.80-second half-mile Polytrack breeze on July 31, and has worked twice on turf in August.
“He worked five-eighths in 1:04 and four around the dogs, and I didn’t know what to think,” Peitz said.
What Peitz has learned this month is that the Arlington “dogs,” orange cones, are placed so far out into the course for turf works that times have to be evaluated on a much different scale than normal breezes. Tajaaweed’s second five-eighths breeze on Aug. 14 went in 1:03, which actually is a sterling clocking.
“They told me that was really fast,” Peitz said.
Tajaaweed will be ridden Saturday by Mike Baze, another Arlington newcomer this summer. The trainer-jockey combo is wasting no time stepping into the deep end of the local pool.
◗ Million-bound Just as Well worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 on Tuesday morning at Presque Isle Downs.
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