10/15/2009 11:00PM

Oak Tree roundup

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WHO'S HOT

No trainer was hotter opening week of the Oak Tree meet than Bob Baffert. He went 5 for 11, with a Grade 1 win by unbeaten Lookin at Lucky and a huge runner-up try by 2-year-old filly Always a Princess in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf. The Baffert stable enters the autumn season at full speed; it figures to stay that way all through the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup. Baffert's stakes runners this weekend are expected to include Richard's Kid (Goodwood), Internallyflawless (Yellow Ribbon), and Riley Tucker (Ancient Title).

Jeff Mullins went 4 for 7 opening week; all seven starters were in races for claimers. And it included a California Cup starter allowance victory by the venerable gelding Yodelen Dan. A 6-year-old, he was winning for the ninth time in 30 starters. "Who's Hot" honorable mention goes to Steve Specht, who trained Lady Railrider up to a victory in the California Cup Matron, her first start in more than four months.

Jockey Tyler Baze made the most of limited mounts, winning 5 of 17 including an impressive score on Blind Luck in the Oak Leaf. Baze is a hot jockey riding good horses, something to keep in mind Saturday when he rides at Keeneland. Baze is tentatively scheduled to ride three top California shippers - sprint filly Carlsbad, turf 3-year-old Battle of Hastings, and good 2-year-old colt Make Music for Me.

Alex Solis put up two good turf victories for trainer Paddy Gallagher, winning with deep closers Exquisite ($15.40) and Playa Bonita ($19). The turf rails were scheduled to be up at 30 feet the first three days of this racing week (Nov. 7-9), so it remains to be seen if deep closers can win with the rails out that far.

WHO'S NOT

Opening week of the Oak Tree meet was a mild disappointment for trainer John Sadler, who had live bullets into the 2-year-old stakes. But the filly Pure Class, who was dead on the board at 7-2, finished a flat sixth in the Oak Leaf. The good colt Dave in Dixie was not up to the class hurdle in his second career start and finished a better-than-looked sixth in the Norfolk. Dave in Dixie can still develop into a top colt, but might not be mature enough for the Breeders' Cup. The week was not a total wash; Sadler won three races.

Rafael Bejarano, still on the comeback mend after missing most of summer, went 3 for 31 and is still looking for his groove. Christian Santiago Reyes went 1 for 21 and will improve once he learns that on Pro-Ride speed must be harnessed.

Finally, the "Who's Not Hot" section would not be complete without this disappointing statistic. The first four days of the meet, the Daily Racing Form analyst at Oak Tree picked a total of 3 winners from 35 races. Talk about breaking slow from the gate.

TRACK TRENDS

Pro-Ride was weird opening week, and if you were on the lead in a sprint or a route, you were not winning the race. Pacesetters went 2 for 28 on the main track and only 1 for 20 in sprints.

But the strange thing is that several sprint-race winners were pressers who were positioned on top of the pace. Except for a possible closers' bias Oct. 1, the surface played relatively fair. One thing is certain - kamikaze speed is never a threat on Pro-Ride. If you go fast out front, you're finished. The most speed-friendly distance during opening week was seven furlongs. Pace-pressers won all four races at the distance.

Midpack runners/stalkers won all six routes at 1 1/16 miles, while four stakes horses suffered injuries in route races - Grazen (bowed tendon) and Blackbriar (sesamoids, euthanized) in the California Cup Classic on Oct. 3; condylar fractures were sustained by John Scott (left hind) and Jung Man Scott (right front) in the Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 4.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

The mighty Zenyatta is the Saturday star. She will be heavily favored to win her 13th straight in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret. If she does what is expected, look for her next in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Also on Saturday, consistent Magical Fantasy tires to make it four straight in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon. Black Mamba will give her a battle. An interesting Grade 1 Goodwood will feature the California comeback for Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.

Neither stakes Sunday is coming up tough, although it will be fun to watch front-runner Presious Passion return to firm turf in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch at 1 1/4 miles. His last three firm-turf starts were wins in a Grade 1 and two Grade 2's. Sprinters run Sunday in the Grade 1 Ancient Title at six furlongs; Gayego was the favorite early in the week. With sprint leader Zensational skipping the race and training up to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Ancient Title is coming up modest.

WORKS OF THE WEEK

From a purely visual perspective, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird looked much better working Oct. 6 than he did one week earlier. Jockey Joe Talamo was aboard for both works. Mine That Bird finished with more purpose in the second drill, timed in 1:00.20 for five furlongs. The workout proved Mine That Bird is a better and stronger horse than he was a week ago. It does not make him the winner of the Goodwood, it only implies he is improving. He must hit the board in the Goodwood to be considered more than a Derby curiosity in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

A notable turf work Oct. 4 by likely Yellow Ribbon favorite Magical Fantasy was completed in 1:12.60 under Alex Solis. She worked in company with General Consensus, breaking off about six lengths behind and finishing one length back while her workmate was not seriously asked. The workout by Magical Fantasy appeared to be ordinary.

RACE OF THE WEEK

The lightly raced 3-year-old M One Rifle (four starts) had questions to answer in the California Cup Sprint, even though he was favored at 7-10 after winning three straight. In the Cal Cup, M One Rifle was facing the tough older veteran Dancing Silks while racing over a surface unkind to speed.

M One Rifle and jockey Mike Smith shot to the lead and were pushed through the quickest half-mile of opening week (44.52 seconds). Dancing in Silks and Joel Rosario loomed outside the pacesetter nearing the eighth pole, and those two battled all the way to the wire while leaving the field behind.

At the finish, it was Dancing in Silks by a nose. M One Rifle finished clear of third and lost nothing in defeat. Super try by two sharp California-bred sprinters. Carla Gaines trains Dancing in Silks; Bruce Headley trains M One Rifle. The final time was 1:09.60, and both earned 106 Beyer Speed Figures.

BET OF THE WEEK

All eyes were on the Oak Tree pick six on Oct. 2, when a two-day carryover of $278,277 generated a pool $916,449. Favorites blanked throughout the sequence, and when first-time starter Sandy Cheeks ($63) was up late to win a maiden-50 that was the final race in the sequence, one winning ticket paid $787,016. According to the racetrack, the winning ticket was a $288 combination purchased at Barona Casino in San Diego.

HORSES TO WATCH

Whispering Hush

Trainer: Eric Kruljac

Last race: Oct. 3, 4th

Finish: 3rd by 3 1/2

Her lower-odds stablemate La Nez won the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies, but this filly might have been best. She was void of speed as usual and blocked behind slow horses from the five-sixteenths to the midstretch before she finally got clear. She finished full of run in her third straight good race and second straight stakes placing. Hard to believe Whispering Hush is still a maiden. She is crying for two turns and also bred for grass.

M One Rifle

Trainer: Bruce Headley

Last race: Oct. 3, 8th

Finish: 2nd by nose

A horse cannot run any better and still get beat than this lightly raced 3-year-old in the California Cup Sprint. He whistled the fastest half of the meet (44.52 seconds) over a track that had yet to produce a front-running winner, battled back through the lane, and lost a heartbreaker while earning a huge figure (106 Beyer Speed Figure). He might be the quickest 3-year-old in California. Ambitious long-range plans could include the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, opening day of the Santa Anita winter meet.

Runaway Bandido

Trainer: Rafael Becerra

Last race: Oct. 3, 10th

Finish: 3rd by 3 1/2

A bump at the start of the California Cup Juvenile got this improving colt all revved up, and the result was an unanticipated trip setting the pace, rather than rally from behind. The bred-long colt ultimately weakened to a respectable third. He will be at his best in a two-turn race next time out, against first-condition allowance foes or a soft stakes.

Crisis of Spirit

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Last race: Oct. 4, 5th

Finish: 1st by 3 1/4

This maiden winner makes it two top juvenile fillies for Baffert. A race before stablemate Always a Princess finished second in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf, this daughter of Vindication became the first gate-to-wire sprint winner of the meet with a solid victory in a quick 1:09.60. She got a soft first quarter, and don't know how far she will run, but she enters fall among the most promising in her division. Eligible to a one-other-than, she may show up in a stakes.