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Oak Tree roundup
Jockey Rafael Bejarano went on a tear the third week of the Oak Tree meet, winning nine races from 19 mounts to climb to second in the standings. Bejarano entered the fourth week with 17 wins, one behind Joel Rosario. Meanwhile, Garrett Gomez remains the top percentage rider. Third in the standings with 14 wins from 57 mounts, Gomez's 24 percent rate leads the colony.
Trainer Eric Kruljac won with all three starters last week and increased his meet total to 5 for 9. Bob Baffert (11 for 39) leads John Sadler (9 for 46) in the overall standings. Several other trainers off to a good start this fall include Jeff Mullins (5 for 15), Marty Jones (4 for 14), and Brian Koriner (4 for 9).
A key change has transformed Blue Chagall into the most exciting allowance-class turf miler on the circuit. Up in class Oct. 18 in the Lure Stakes, he unleashed a dazzling final quarter in about 22.50 seconds to win clear in 1:34.14, his second straight win and a complete turnaround from a dismal start to his U.S. career. A Group 3 winner in France, Blue Chagall beat all of three horses his first four U.S. starts, before being gelded prior to his April 1 comeback. He has improved each start since. Julio Canani trains Blue Chagall, who won the Lure by
3 3/4 lengths, with plenty left. He figures as a contender Nov. 27 in the Grade 1 Citation at Hollywood Park.
Shadow of Illinois won for the ninth time in 39 starts Oct. 18 in a second-level allowance. Anthony Saavedra trains Shadow or Illinois, a 9-year-old gelding who has won 5 of 9 on the downhill turf course.
Gotta Have Her ran her downhill turf record to 4 for 4 with a two-length win over fillies Oct. 17 in the Grade 3 Ken Maddy Handicap. Gotta Have Her returned $5, as favorites continue to dominate the downhill turf course. Favorites won 7 of the first 14 turf sprints this fall.
Quality took a tumble the third week of the season. Although Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and Fairplex Park trimmed racing dates because of declining inventory, Oak Tree continued with a five-day schedule that stretched to six days with a Monday card on Columbus Day, Oct. 12. The schedule took its toll, and during week 3 of the meet the field size averaged only 7.26 starters, and 16 of the 31 main-track races were maiden-claimers. Oak Tree early this week announced a purse cut related to slumping business.
Raise the River might be setting a record for futility. His runner-up finish Oct. 12 was his 11th in-the-money finish from 13 career starts and his 10th loss as the betting favorite. A 4-year-old maiden trained by Carla Gaines, Raise the River can run short or long, grass or synthetic. He will be one of the favorites next time in a similar maiden race for statebreds.
When a horse earns a 37 Beyer Figure in Southern California, it usually finishes nowhere. But first-time starter Uncirculated found a dismal group of 2-year-old maiden-claiming fillies in race 8 on Oct. 14 and won the 5 1/2-furlong race in 1:06.60. The filly's trainer is Doug O'Neill, who entered the week 2 for 31 since Oct. 4.
Although the Pro-Ride surface continues to favor off-the-pace runners, the profile is less severe than it was the first two weeks. From eight races in week 3, there were three six-furlong winners that led at every call. The first two weeks at six furlongs, only two of the 26 races were won by the pacesetter.
Meanwhile, at 6 1/2 furlongs, no horse this meet through Oct. 18 had led at every call. Around two turns, the preferred style remains a pressing trip, but two of the six races at 1 1/16 miles were won gate to wire, compared to 1 of 15 the first two weeks.
The prep races are complete, and the next 1 1/2 weeks is the calm before the Breeders' Cup storm. Three-year-old fillies, including the improving Minute Limit, run one mile on turf Saturday in the Grade 3 Harold Ramser Handicap; the Sunday stakes is the $55,000 California Sky Stakes, a turf sprint for California-breds.
Two-year-olds of both genders race six furlongs Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. The Jack Goodman Stakes on Oct. 31 could feature Indian Firewater, runner-up at odds of 7-10 in an Oct. 10 allowance won by Color of Courage, who also might be nominated. The Anoakia Stakes for fillies Nov. 1 might feature impressive maiden winner Crisis of Spirit.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
The front-running 3-year-old filly Dani Reese was up against it Oct. 16 in race 7, a first-level allowance sprint in which she was stuck on the rail with tons of speed to her outside. After contemplating the scenario, trainer Dan Hendricks could only come up with one idea for jockey Mike Smith: "I gave Mike the option - if she doesn't break sharp, to sit behind the speed."
Dani Reese broke slowly, and Smith took her back. "She completely relaxed," Smith told Hendricks. Dani Reese settled seven lengths off the pace, made an extended run to reach contention into the lane, then blew past the leaders to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths.
"She ran a totally different race," Hendricks said, marveling at the sudden transformation of a one-dimensional front-runner into an effective closer. Dani Reese earned a 91 Beyer Figure winning for the third time in four starts and punched her ticket into the $75,000 Cat's Cradle Handicap on Nov. 15 at Hollywood Park.
RETIREMENTS OF THE WEEK
Veteran sprinters Exceeding and Roi Charmant were among the most honest and durable horses to compete on the Southern California circuit the last six racing seasons. Both recently retired; both will be missed. Exceeding, a 9-year-old gelding who won 14 races and $550,701 from 42 starts, was retired because of declining form. He won the $100,000 California Cup Sprint Championship in 2005 at Bay Meadows and ends with the fourth-highest win total by an offspring of In Excess. His final start was a runner-up finish Sept. 27 at Fairplex Park in a $12,500 claiming race.
Roi Charmant, an 8-year-old, kept his game at a high level throughout his career. He won eight races and $337,368 from 27 starts until age and setbacks finally caught up this year after he had won four straight races at the $40,000 claiming level and above. According to co-owner Kevin Zietz, Roi Charmant will enter stud next spring.
Beyond winning more than their fair share, Exceeding and Roi Charmant also rewarded their pari-mutuel supporters. A $2 win bet on Exceeding in each of his 42 starts would have produced a net profit of $47. A similar bet on Roi Charmant in each of his 27 starts would have produced a net profit of $34.80.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Darrell Vienna
Last race: Oct. 16, 4th
Finish: 2nd by head
An improved second start stamps her as a likely winner next time out. Dropping into a $40,000 maiden-claimer after a sluggish debut, she showed improved speed, chased a hot pace, made the lead in deep stretch, and then got collared by a deep closer. Her up-front running style should be effective this fall on the speed-friendly Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. She fits in a statebred special weight or maiden-40.
Trainer: Kristin Mulhall
Last race: Oct. 15, 4th
Finish: 5th by 5 3/4
The 41 Beyer Speed Figure does no justice to the effort by this improving 2-year-old filly. Stretching to a mile in a $32,000 maiden-claimer, she was blocked behind traffic on the far turn, lacked room and steadied in midstretch, fell back to last, then finished with run and galloped out strongly past the wire. She has found her niche running long and can win a similar maiden-claimer this fall.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Last race: Oct. 15, 6th
Finish: 2nd by 1 3/4
An older maiden dropping in for a claim tag while making his fourth career start, this 3-year-old is sitting on a win after producing the best effort of his career. He reportedly got hot going to post, raced midfield, and ran a winning race nonetheless while finishing almost four lengths clear of third. Looks tough to beat next out for a $50,000 tag.
Trainer: John Sadler
Last race: Oct. 4, 6th
Finish: 6th by 8 1/4
This 2-year-old had an excuse for her disappointing effort in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf and might still develop into a top filly next season. A runaway winner of a two-turn maiden race at Del Mar, she flattened out in the Oak Leaf and came out of the race with a small chip in a knee. She had minor surgery Oct. 20 and will be out 90 days. Look for her to make a splash in the 3-year-old filly division next spring.
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