Updated on 09/17/2011 11:09AM

McKee gets first California mount

Four Footed Fotos
John McKee will ride Sister Girl Blues in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - John McKee, a finalist for the 2002 Eclipse Award for top apprentice jockey, will ride Sister Girl Blues in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

McKee, who is currently riding at Ellis Park, was given the mount by owner Jeff Nielsen because he can make the filly's 109-pound assignment. The field for the Grade 2 Hirsch is led by Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, who carries top weight of 127 pounds.

In the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in June, Sister Girl Blues finished second to Azeri, leading to early stretch before losing by two lengths. Sister Girl Blues was assigned 110 pounds in that race, but jockey G.F. Almeida carried 111.

"Gonzo did a great job last time but when management puts you in this position you don't want to second guess yourself if you get beat three-quarters of a length," he said.

"I don't know if the two pounds will make a difference, but we want to take advantage of it. We're not intimidated by coming back at all. In our minds, Azeri had to work to beat us."

McKee, 21, has won riding titles at River Downs and Turfway Park. The Hirsch will mark the first time he has ridden in California.

"I've watched him over the last several months," Nielsen said. "He appears to me to be aggressive. I think he would appreciate the chance to ride in a big race."

Nielsen was surprised that Azeri was not assigned more weight. Azeri has won 10 consecutive races and is carrying a weight equal to the highest handicap assignment of her career.

Tom Robbins, the director of racing at Del Mar, said Azeri was not given a higher weight in an effort to draw her to the track's richest race on dirt for fillies and mares.

"We're thrilled to have her running at Del Mar and we didn't feel the need to go up," Robbins said.

A field of five is likely for the Hirsch, including Angel Gift, Got Koko, and Tropical Blossom. Track officials said on Thursday that there will be no show wagering in fear that hundreds of thousands of dollars in show bets on Azeri will lead to a massive minus pool.

Candy Ride set for Pacific Classic

Candy Ride, unbeaten in five career races, worked a mile in 1:36.20 in preparation for his first start in a $1 million race, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 24.

Working solo, Candy Ride galloped out 1 1/8 miles in 1:49, according to trainer Ron McAnally.

"It was an A-plus workout," McAnally said. "He galloped out last week in 1:37, so I expected a 1:36. But it's the way he does it. He just loves what he's doing."

Owned by Sid and Jenny Craig, Candy Ride won three races in Argentina, including two stakes, and two starts at Hollywood Park this summer - an allowance race in June and the Grade 2 American Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf on July 4.

Candy Ride is unlikely to have many opponents in the Pacific Classic, which will be run at 1 1/4 miles.

Congaree, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup, may not start, trainer Bob Baffert said. He said no plans have been finalized for Congaree, whose autumn goal is the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"I'm leaning not to run him," Baffert said.

Peace Rules, the winner of the Haskell Invitational last weekend, and Milwaukee Brew, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap last March, will start for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Kudos, the winner of the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park in June, is probable, while Eye of the Tiger, the winner of the Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park in June, is also a candidate.

Bonus Pack wins a close one

After losing five times by a neck or less in his career, Bonus Pack finally won a close race on Wednesday, rallying from off the pace to score his first stakes win on turf in the $81,625 Escondido Handicap at Del Mar.

Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Bonus Pack ($11.60) stalked the pace to the final turn, took the lead in the final furlong, and fought off a stern challenge from Mont Saint Michel to win the marathon by a half-length. Asong for Billy, the 5-2 favorite, finished third in the field of nine.

Bonus Pack finished 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:12.50.

The victory was a relief to owner Leonard Lavin and trainer Tom Proctor who have watched Bonus Pack, 5, lose close finishes against maidens, in allowance races and stakes, including the $100,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap at Arlington Park in May.

"He's friendly," Proctor said. "He likes horses. He runs up there and wants to visit."

The Escondido was restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over this year. Bonus Pack has won 7 of 29 starts and $438,375.

The Escondido was the gelding's ninth start on turf and first since a ninth-place finish at Gulfstream Park in February 2002. In two of those turf races, he finished second by a nose.

"We always thought he'd like the turf," Proctor said. "He's got a stride for it, so maybe he'll be all right."

Garcia suspended for eight days

Jockey Matt Garcia has been suspended for eight days for his involvement in two disqualifications for causing interference in races last Monday.

Garcia was given a three-day suspension for his ride on Real Big Spender in the fifth race. Real Big Spender was disqualified from third and placed fifth for causing interference in the stretch.

Garcia received a five-day suspension for his ride aboard Crash McGoon in the eighth race. Crash McGoon finished first in a one-mile race for maiden claiming company but was demoted to seventh for interference on the first turn.

Garcia intends to appeal the three-day suspension but has not decided whether to appeal the longer penalty, according to his agent Ray Kravagna.

Dublino works for Beverly D.

Dublino, the winner of the Wilshire Handicap in April and the runner-up in three subsequent major stakes races, worked a half-mile on Thursday in preparation for the $700,000 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 16.

Dublino was timed in 47.60 seconds, working around cones set several feet off the inside rail.

Trainer Laura de Seroux said last week that Dublino would pass the Beverly D., but changed her mind.

"I thought I would give her a workout and see how she's doing," de Seroux said. "She looked like a gazelle. The race is pivotal for the Eclipse Award."

Kent Desormeaux will ride Dublino in the Beverly D. Desormeaux is already booked to ride Just Wonder for de Seroux in the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds on the same day at Arlington Park.

* Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, the leading rider in Southern California this year, was scheduled to resume riding on Thursday, a day after taking off his mounts for personal reasons.

Valenzuela's agent, Nick Cosato, said on Wednesday that Valenzuela wanted to spend time with his wife, Valerie. The couple was married last November.

Valenzuela won riding titles earlier this year at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.

* There is no plan to revive the $75,000 Old Topper Handicap, which failed to draw sufficient entries on Friday, according to Tom Robbins, the Del Mar director of racing.

The six-furlong race for 3-year-olds had only six nominations and two entries as of mid-morning on Wednesday. The race was being offered for the first time.

The Old Topper was part of the overnight stakes schedule, meaning the prize money will revert to the general purse fund.