09/28/2017 2:06PM

Hovdey: Desormeaux readies armada for BC preview


That blur whirling around Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon will be Keith Desormeaux, who is running nine horses on the splashy opening Saturday of the meet, including starters in four of the five Grade 1 races on the program.

The day is being billed as a Breeders’ Cup preview of the big dance at Del Mar on Nov. 3 and 4. As far as Desormeaux is concerned, though, the opportunities present nothing less than a chance to reboot a fitful season, and he thinks he has the ammo to get it done.

The trainer had a career year in 2016, when the stable purse total of $4.4 million from just 227 starters landed him in the nation’s top 25. This year has been a different tale.

So far, the take is just shy of $1.5 million. None of the barn’s wins have come in stakes, although Desormeaux horses have hit the board in races like the Rebel, the Rachel Alexandra, the San Pasqual, the Sorrento, and the Best Pal. During the summer meet at Del Mar, Desormeaux had runners finish second 14 times to go with five wins, while 48 percent of his 56 starters hit the board.

“Trainers are supposed to be wildly competitive, so, yeah, it’s been frustrating,” Desormeaux said this week. “As far as being disappointed, we’re smart enough to know that those last couple of years were so huge that maybe we had to cool off. But now it’s time to crank up again, and this weekend looks like a good place to start.”

After running three maidens in earlier events, Desormeaux jumps into the Grade 1 pool with Motown Lady in the Zenyatta. The daughter of Uncle Mo arrived in the Desormeaux barn last June and made an immediate impression with a fourth-place finish behind Stellar Wind and Vale Dori in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

“I developed a lot of respect for her that day, beaten just four lengths,” Desormeaux said. “She was not backing up in the stretch. She was just outkicked.”

Then, in the subsequent Tranquility Lake, Motown Queen was an unthreatening third.

“She came in mean, and now she’s a sweetheart,” the trainer said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Manon Lemaire, who gets on her every day. I’m hoping her huge effort in the Clement Hirsch affected her, and she maybe bounced.”

Dancing Belle, a daughter of First Samurai, carries the stable hopes into the Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. She was second in the Grade 2 Sorrento and was last seen finishing a well-beaten fourth to Moonshine Memories in the Del Mar Debutante.

“I love her attitude, and I think she’s a super talent – that’s why I keep running her over her head,” Desormeaux said. “The only thing I can come up with in her last race was that she’d never been that close going that fast early on.”

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Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the trainer’s brother, Dancing Belle found herself three lengths off a half that shaded 45 seconds in the Debutante before losing momentum.

“Kent did his job,” Desormeaux said. “She was comfortable, but she didn’t finish. It kind of confused us. I do know that being by First Samurai out of an Afleet Alex mare, she looks the part for a mile and a sixteenth.”

Desormeaux concedes that the FrontRunner shapes up a Del Mar Futurity rematch between Bolt d’Oro and Zatter, which gives the trainer the cover to take a shot with Ayacara, an English colt by Violence out of a Pulpit mare.

After a sprint debut, Ayacara stretched to a mile and came running late to win a Del Mar maiden race by a neck. People have taken Grade 1 swings with less.

“I don’t know much about his dam, Pacifica Highway, other than her second dam was Kostroma,” Desormeaux noted.

Kostroma was a stone freak whose nine furlongs in 1:43.92 on the Santa Anita grass in 1991 still stands as a world record.

“I was inclined to skip this race and go for the Zuma Beach on the grass,” Desormeaux said. “But I’ve got a sneaking suspicion he might be better on the dirt. He trains so well on it. He broke his maiden on it, and he did it where we’ve got the big Breeders’ Cup race right around the corner. So why not give him a chance for glory?”

There’s no doubt about what Decked Out likes to do, which is run a middle distance on California turf and finish with style. The daughter of Street Boss gives Desormeaux his best Grade 1 shot of the day in the Rodeo Drive against defending champ Avenge and the consistent Goodyearforroses.

Decked Out won both the American Oaks and the Providencia Stakes on the Santa Anita grass during an 11-race campaign in 2016. She got a well-earned rest, then came back with a so-so fifth in the John C. Mabee at Del Mar.

“I didn’t think she needed the race,” Desormeaux said. “She had a perfect trip, but when a hole opened up inside she wouldn’t go through. All I could think was she’d never been in that position before. So we’ll keep her on the outside this time and hope she progresses.

“Win, lose or draw, what I am planning on is a big party afterwards. Getting nine horses safely to the post is an accomplishment.”