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Midnight Lute ready to run
DEL MAR, Calif. - The Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic is the highlight of Sunday's stakes-filled card at Del Mar, but the the horse who had the track buzzing on Monday morning was 2007 sprint champion Midnight Lute, who could make his long-awaited return on the undercard in the Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap.
Midnight Lute came out just after the renovation break and turned in a sensational work, going five furlongs in 58.20 seconds and doing it effortlessly under jockey Amir Cedeno. Midnight Lute's trainer, Bob Baffert, said he was still undecided whether to run here or head to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Forego Handicap on Aug. 30, but conceded "what I saw today was what I wanted to see."
"He does things so easy," Baffert said as Midnight Lute galloped out; Baffert had him going out six furlongs in 1:10.60. "He looked pretty darn good to me. He just floats. He's freaking incredible. He had some little foot issues last week after he was shod, but he's fine.
"The plane for Saratoga leaves Wednesday morning, so I don't have to decide until then."
Both the O'Brien and Forego are at seven furlongs. Midnight Lute won the Forego last year as his final prep for a subsequent victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He has not raced since finishing second in the Cigar Mile last November.
Pacific Classic horses have final prep
Student Council, who won last year's Pacific Classic, turned up for a defense of his title with a half-mile work in 49.89 seconds on Monday for trainer Steve Asmussen on the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. He was scheduled to fly here on Tuesday.
Also at Saratoga, but on the main track, Out of Control zipped five furlongs in 1:00.12, the best time of 22 at the distance, for trainer Bobby Frankel.
At Churchill Downs, Go Between breezed a half-mile in 48.20 seconds for trainer Bill Mott.
And here at Del Mar, Mostacolli Mort worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 for trainer Julio Canani.
Those four are part of a prospective field of 12 that also includes Awesome Gem, Barcola, Delosvientos, Mast Track, McCann's Mojave, Surf Cat, Well Armed, and Zappa. Post positions will be drawn Wednesday night at a party at a local hotel.
First 2-year-old race on turf
For the first time this meet, 2-year-olds will get a chance to race on turf, and around two turns, in the fifth race on Wednesday. For trainer Tim Yakteen, it's not a moment too soon.
Yakteen has high hopes for Screen Gem, a filly who makes her career debut in that race.
"I wanted two turns on the turf, so this is ideally what we were looking for," Yakteen said Monday morning. "She's by Dynaformer out of a Danzig mare."
Screen Gem, a $300,000 purchase as a weanling, is owned by theater owner George Krikorian. Yakteen said he trains six runners for Krikorian.
"This filly has trained like she's got a bright future. I'm pretty hopeful. I think she could be special," Yakteen said.
Bilo pulled up, back with Jones
A little more than 13 months ago, Bilo won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap. He followed that up with a victory in the California Cup Sprint Handicap, an emotional win for trainer Marty Jones, since it occurred just days after the passing of Bilo's owner and breeder, Ed Nahem.
Bilo, now 8, was subsequently sold to owners Scott Anastasi and Dan Capen and transferred to Mike Mitchell, but his form has gone south. After two poor tries in stakes races, he was dropped into a $62,500 claimer here on Aug. 2, and beat one horse. Then on Sunday, when plummeting to the $25,000 claiming level in a 6 1/2-furlong race, Bilo got about 50 yards out of the gate before jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. began to pull him up.
"He felt a little gimpy," Valdivia said Monday. "I hope he's okay."
There were no claims in for Bilo, a gelding, but he's changing barns. Mitchell on Monday gave the horse back to Jones.
"He hasn't run well for me, and Marty loves that old horse," Mitchell said. "I didn't think there was any way we were going to lose him on Sunday. I just wanted to get him in an easier spot and get him eligible for the starter-allowance race on Cal Cup Day. I thought I had him ready to go. I still think he's got some game left.
"The owners told Marty to train him, and if he thinks he should be retired, to retire him. If he wants to run him, he can run him. I've known Marty a long time. His father, Gary, is my best friend. I know Marty loves that horse. If he wants to retire him, I know he'll find him a nice home."
Bilo has won 7 of 19 starts and $524,436.
Debutante next for Palacio de Amor
Palacio de Amor, the winner of a maiden race for 2-year-old fillies on Saturday, will make her stakes debut in the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 1, owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho said in the winner's circle.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Palacio de Amor led throughout, pulling clear in the final furlong to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Casino Gold. Palacio de Amor ($6) ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.01.
If Palacio de Amor runs in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante over seven furlongs, the race will be her third start in 29 says. Purchased for $85,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, Palacio de Amor, by Dixieland Band, finished fourth in her debut on Aug. 3.
Martin suspended for three days
Jockey Eddie Martin Jr. was given a three-day suspension by Del Mar stewards for causing interference in Friday's Sandy Blue Handicap, a one-mile turf race.
Martin rode Dubai Majesty who finished fourth. In the stretch, Dubai Majesty was ruled to have interfered with sixth-place finisher La Mina. Martin, 45, is suspended from Saturday through Monday.
Martin has ridden only sparingly at Del Mar this year, winning the San Clemente Handicap in July on Storm Mesa, who finished fifth in Saturday's Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. Martin rode at Lone Star Park in the spring and summer.
Baze back after missing a day
Jockey Tyler Baze was back in action on Sunday and won two races, one day after taking off his mounts. Baze was injured in a training accident on Saturday morning, and though he was still not 100 percent Sunday, he was good enough to ride that day and Monday, too.
"He got dropped behind the gate and bruised his left foot," Baze's agent, Ron Ebanks, said Monday. "X-rays were clean, but it was swollen. It doesn't feel bad when he's in the saddle. He took this morning off, and he'll get all of [Tuesday] off, since there's no racing."
Tranquility Farm rescues 36 mares
A herd of 36 Thoroughbred broodmares found earlier this month on a feedlot in Phoenix have been adopted by Tranquility Farm, the horse rescue organization, according to a statement released by Tranquility Farm last weekend.
The broodmares, who faced an uncertain future according to Tranquility president Priscilla Clark, are in the process of being offered for adoption. She said earlier this month that without the intervention of concerned parties the horses could have been sent to Mexico for slaughter.
"We've had an overwhelming response from people in terms of financial support and people in the Phoenix area agreeing to assist in any way," Clark said.
The horses were previously owned by Ben Warren, the owner and operator of Warren's Thoroughbreds in Hemet, Calif. In an interview at Del Mar on Aug. 8, Warren said that he gave the horses away as part of a reduction of his broodmare holdings and did not intend for them to be sent to Arizona.
"I planned to go to 70 mares," he said. "I got a name from somebody that would give them a home. The next day they were in Arizona. That was not the intent of mine. I was guaranteed none would go to slaughter."
* Trainer Marcelo Polanco has been fined $500 by Del Mar stewards after one of his starters, Only First Class, tested in excess of the permitted level of the analgesic phenylbutazone. Only First Class finished third in the third race at Del Mar on July 19, a maiden special weight for female sprinters.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen