11/05/2009 1:00AM

Mullins horse sits on rebound


ARCADIA, Calif. - After a memorable summer, Battle of Hastings has put together two discouraging losses, but they have not shaken trainer Jeff Mullins's faith in him.

Battle of Hastings lost the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby by a nose Sept. 6 and appeared not to like soft turf when fourth in the at Keeneland on Oct. 10.

Mullins said he expects Battle of Hastings to reverse that trend in Saturday's $150,000 Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita. The distance of 1 1/8 miles on turf and a firm turf course will suit Battle of Hastings, who has won 6 of 13 starts and $1,006,592 for owner Michael House.

Battle of Hastings was unbeaten in two starts on this turf course in the spring, winning the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes for sprinters and the La Puente Stakes over a mile. During the summer, he won the at Colonial Downs.

The loss in the Del Mar Derby stung Mullins.

"I think [Rendezvous] caught him by surprise," he said.

Mullins said he thinks Battle of Hastings raced on the unfavorable inside of Keeneland's turf course.

"I scratched that race," he said.

Battle of Hastings has the highest career earnings in the Oak Tree Derby, which drew 12 entrants, including eight stakes winners.

Rendezvous was fifth against older horses in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Invitational here Oct. 11, his first stakes appearance against older horses.

"I think this is a little bit better," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.

Acclimation, a game third in the Del Mar Derby, will set the pace. He was second in the Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational at Fairplex Park on Sept. 27, a loss that frustrated trainer Donald Warren, who said he thought Acclimation had the race won in the stretch.

Richard Mandella starts Meteore, who won the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap and was fourth in the Del Mar Derby.

"He was a little rank in the Del Mar Derby," Mandella said. "It was his third race at Del Mar, and it might have been too much. I've taken the time to settle him down."

Smart Bid returns in Damascus

Saturday's first race is the $100,000 Damascus Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs, which serves as a prep for the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes here Dec. 26.

The Damascus will be Smart Bid's first start since he finished second by a neck in the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland last April. Smart Bid was diagnosed with a bone chip in an ankle after that race and underwent surgery.

Smart Bid has been given a few tough workouts for his comeback. Earlier this week, he worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 with stablemate Bullsbay, who starts in Saturday's BC Dirt Mile.

A two-time winner, Smart Bid will be after his first stakes win.

"He's certainly got the ability," trainer Graham Motion said. "The seven-eighths seems like a good distance to come back, too."

Motion is banking on Smart Bid not expending too much energy in the first half of the Damascus, which drew a field of eight. The lineup includes Coronet of a Baron, a recent allowance race winner who was third in the 2008 BC Juvenile Turf, and M One Rifle, a speedy horse who won the Real Good Deal Stakes at Del Mar in August.