12/12/2012 4:08PM

Hovdey: Hollywood Turf Cup contains father-and-son story line

Tom Keyser
Grassy will represent part owner Gary Jones and his son, trainer Marty Jones, in Saturday's Hollywood Turf Cup.

Fair warning. Win the Hollywood Turf Cup and you might end up in Australia.

This is not necessarily a bad thing even though, to North Americans, the great Down Under seems like a planet far, far away, requiring something close to a lifetime of air travel to get there. The first time I flew that direction there were stops in Hawaii and Fiji, presumably for alcoholic supplies for first class and jet fuel for the rest of us. They trick you by pointing to clock and calendar and telling don’t worry, it’s already tomorrow anyway. Upon reaching Auckland, wearing what felt like a three-day beard, I was informed it was still 2 1/2 hours to Oz. I stayed in Auckland and considered swimming home, or New Zealand citizenship.

Anyway, if you are a horse nobody asks, and if you have won a recent Turf Cup it’s off to Australia’s southeastern coast and the Melbourne Cup, better known as the race that stops a nation and starts a party.

Unusual Suspect, the California-bred stayer who won the Hollywood Turf Cup for trainer and part owner Barry Abrams in 2010, popped up in the 2011 Melbourne Cup and finished ninth of 23 runners, and it was about as good a ninth as you will ever see, clustered as he was in a bunch behind 1-2 finishers Dunaden and Red Cadeaux.

[HOLLYWOOD PARK: Get PPs and watch Saturday's full card live]

Unusual Suspect stayed in Australia and tried the Melbourne Cup again this year, this time faring a poor 21st of 24. Sanagas, winner of the 2011 Hollywood Turf Cup for Graham Motion and owner Andreas Jacobs, finished 18th.

Whether or not there is a Melbourne Cup in the future of this year’s Hollywood Turf Cup winner remains to be seen. Horsemen and horseplayers should be happy there is a Turf Cup at all, since twice in the last seven years it was not even run – once (in 2005) because the Hollywood turf course forgot to grow and once (in 2009) because the track pleaded poverty and “suspended” four stakes.

Still, the race has somehow maintained its Grade 1 rating, which is at least in keeping with a distant history that includes such winners as John Henry, Great Communicator, Itsallgreektome and Miss Alleged, all of them players at the highest turf levels.

Saturday’s running, worth $250,000 for 1 1/2 miles worth of work, is headlined by Twilight Derby winner Grandeur and San Juan Capistrano winner Bourbon Bay. Grandeur will try to become the first 3-year-old to win the Turf Cup since 1992, when Bien Bien was moved up on the disqualification of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Fraise. As for Bourbon Bay, he will be try to prove that life can begin again at 6, coming 7, after a long layoff through the middle of 2012. He was second in the Turf Cup last year to Sanagas, which meant he didn’t have to go to Australia.

Marty Jones will send forth Grassy in the Turf Cup for the partnership of George Hicker, Jim Taylor, and Gary Jones, the trainer’s father and a retired trainer of sufficient repute to land a semi-regular spot on the Hall of Fame ballot. Retired since 1996, he maintains an arm’s length policy whenever one of his partnerships has a horse in Marty’s barn.

“I let him call me if he’s got something to say,” Gary said. “Otherwise I leave him alone. He knows what to do.”

This does not preclude Jones the elder from celebrating his son’s steady progress as a public trainer. Marty Jones, 41, is establishing a reputation for horses who outrun their odds more often than not, and for finding themselves in the thick of the fight when they are supposed to be. His success is reflected in a growing list of patrons led by such Californians as John Harris, Don Valpredo, Martin Wygod, and Pamela Ziebarth, in addition to Hicker.

“I see he even had a runner the other day for Bobby Flay,” Gary said. “He’s having real good year, and that’s with a couple of very tough beats.”

With 2012 earnings of slightly more than $1.9 million from about 200 starters, the Jones stable needs a hundred grand and change to top its best season ever, which was 2011. Jones already would be there had the Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood gone his way on Nov. 25, when Better Lucky, at 35-1, defeated his well-meant Tiz Flirtatious by a length. The difference between first and second that day was $100,000.

Grassy is a cool gray son of El Prado who was an established turf stalwart in New York for Christophe Clement before he was sold to his current partnership. Among his five lifetime wins was a score in the 2011 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park, in addition to close stakes seconds behind classy animals such as Boisterous and Musketier.

“I really didn’t know anything about him prior to his purchase,” said Jones, who welcomed Grassy into his Hollywood Park stable at the end of 2011. “Steve Young was instrumental on that. When he got here he acted like he wanted a little time off so we gave it to him, then brought him back at Del Mar. Since then it’s gone pretty smoothly.”

Grassy has run twice since his warmup race at Del Mar. He finished fourth in the John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita on a day that Slim Shadey was just too fast for everybody. Then, in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, Grassy was grinding along at the end of the 1 3/4 miles, looking as if he might win it all, when Calidoscopico blew past to steal the day. Grassy finished second.

“We were pretty proud of him,” Jones said. “That was a lot to ask, never running on that surface before.”

If Grassy wins the Turf Cup, don’t figure Jones to be looking any farther than across town to the traditional Santa Anita turf program. Besides, the 2013 Melbourne Cup would conflict directly with the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita, and there are scores to settle.

“Obviously, if everything goes well he might be in that race again next year,” Jones said. “But that’s a long ways away.”