06/24/2016 2:16PM

Hovdey: Puhich looks for moment in the sun in Kent


With a full tank of gas and a little ambition, a summertime racing fan on the Eastern seaboard could load up the station wagon this coming week and hit Belmont Park, Delaware Park, Monmouth Park, Pimlico, and Parx without batting an eye. Add a little more adventure and a few extra miles, and the racing menu expands to include Penn Natonal, Finger Lakes, Charles Town, and Mountaineer, although for those last two you’d need to go to West Virginia. Drive safely.

By comparison, the West Coast of these United States, stretching 1,400 miles from the Mexican border to the corner of Canada, offers a bona fide Thoroughbred racing experience about every 500 miles or so. This is not counting the mixed meet going on at Oregon’s Josephine County Fairgrounds in Grants Pass, where the Firecracker Quarter Horse Futurity is the main attraction and Thoroughbreds try just as hard as they do at Santa Anita, Pleasanton, or Emerald Downs.

Pleasanton is the Alameda County town about 30 miles east of San Francisco that hosts three weeks of sport at this time of year under the banner of the Oak Tree Racing Association. Yes, that Oak Tree Racing Association – the nonprofit horsemen’s group that hosted five runnings of the Breeders’ Cup and ran a world-class autumn meet at Santa Anita every year for 40 years until its lease was terminated by The Stronach Group.

Because they were not ready to call it quits, as well as to avoid a huge hit from a labor contract payout, Oak Tree’s directors offered their imprimatur to the Alameda County Fair, along with some purse money and operational expertise. Now in their third year together, Oak Tree at Pleasanton has become established enough that they will team in late September to run the two weeks of racing abandoned by the San Joaquin County Fair at Stockton.

“We had to get used to each other, ” said Sherwood Chillingworth, Oak Tree’s executive director. “But the community has been great, and they wanted us to come back this year.”

A culture clash was predictable. Pleasanton is a farm town that morphed into a desirable bedroom community serving corporate headquarters, business parks, and tech companies. Oak Tree’s roots trace to old Pasadena money and horse racing as a pastime to be enjoyed with a degree of formality.

“Our goal is to improve the quality of racing and increase the size of the fields, but so far we have not been completely successful,” Chillingworth said. “We’re in a survival mode, like the rest of the game. We have been able to donate about $27,000 to local charities, however, which is important for us to maintain the Oak Tree philosophy.”

About 800 miles to the north, just south of Seattle, Emerald Downs is rolling into the summer portion of its 70-day meet under the ownership and operation of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. The $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 14 is the traditional highlight of the season, but in the meantime, a race like the $50,000 Kent Stakes on Sunday for 3-year-old fillies gives fans a taste of the local quality.

When trainer Mike Puhich ran Profound Moment for a $25,000 claiming tag in her debut May 7 at Emerald Downs, he wasn’t quite sure how good she was. In fact, she was good enough to win by 13 lengths, at which point Puhich held his breath until he was sure no one had dropped in a claim.

“The timing was good to get away with it,” Puhich said. “Ever since she ran, they’re dropping claims on me like a fire sale. But you might as well be aggressive once in a while.”

Puhich has his runners both at Mark Dedomenico’s Pegasus Training and Equine Rehabilitation Center and Emerald Downs, where he is currently tied for third in the standings with Frank Lucarelli behind Jeff Metz and Blaine Wright. The young Barbadan Rocco Bowen was leading veteran Leslie Mawing on the jockey side, 44-38, going into Friday’s card.

After her astounding debut, Profound Moment ran back June 12 in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race against older fillies and mares and finished fourth without seeing the lead. Puhich was not discouraged.

“I wanted to run her before that, but the races just kept not filling,” Puhich said. “I think she went over the top a little, and she ended up going into that race kind of half-cocked, so I’m throwing it out.”

In the Kent, Profound Moment will be back in against her own age group and stretching out to 1 1/16 miles. Local boy Joe Steiner, aboard for both of Profound Moment’s starts, will be back aboard the daughter of Haynesfield on Sunday.

“She was actually a pickup mount for Joe in her first race,” Puhich said. “Mawing was supposed to ride her, but he came off a horse earlier that day and had to take off the rest of his mounts. He was okay, and both he and Joe had worked the filly before, so it turned out all right.”

Whether or not Profound Moment can run back to her debut in the Kent remains to be seen. But winning a 5 1/2-furlong race by 13 lengths under any circumstances is impressive.

“Joe had a big grin coming into the winner’s circle,” Puhich said. “He looks at me and says, ‘She would have won carrying both me and Leslie today.’ ”