05/25/2016 1:20PM

O'Neill to be well represented on California Gold Rush program

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Trainer Doug O'Neill considers Smoove It his best chance for a win on Saturday's California Gold Rush program.

Doug O’Neill does not have to look far for a reminder of his success with California-breds.

One of his stable ponies is Lava Man, the California-bred who earned more than $5.2 million in the 2000s.

“Those were good times,” O’Neill said.

These times aren’t bad either. O’Neill won his second Kentucky Derby on May 7 with Nyquist, who was third in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico last Saturday.

On Wednesday, O’Neill was back in California, overseeing his Los Alamitos stable and making plans to start several runners in the California Gold Rush program for Cal-breds at Santa Anita on Saturday. There are five six-figure stakes for Cal-breds on the program, and O’Neill is set to have runners in four of them.

Ralis, the winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September, will race on turf for the first time in the $200,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles. Avanti Bello, third in the Bertrando Stakes for Cal-breds at Los Alamitos last month, will run in the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes for older horses at a mile.

Smoove It, the winner of the Irish O’Brien Stakes for Cal-breds on the hillside turf course in March, runs in the $125,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes for fillies and mares at a mile on turf. Pay the Fine will run in the $100,000 Lennyfrommalibu Stakes on the hillside turf course.

O’Neill will be absent from the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. The 11-race program is scheduled to have races exclusively for Cal-breds, including maiden races and optional claimers.

Pay the Fine, Ralis, and Smoove It are owned by Paul and Zillah Reddam, who own Nyquist. Avanti Bello is owned by a partnership that includes Steven Keh, Pablo Suarez, and Wonderland Racing Stables.

O’Neill said on Wednesday that he rates Smoove It as his best chance Saturday. The 5-year-old mare has won 5 of 25 starts and earned $340,920. Since the Irish O’Brien, Smoove It has struggled, finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Stakes on April 10 and last of 14 in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine Stakes on turf May 5.

“She’s been running in pretty tough company,” O’Neill said.

Trying Ralis on turf is an experiment, O’Neill said. Ralis is winless in five starts since the Hopeful, with his best result a fifth, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park on April 2.

Ralis was 10th in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby card.

O’Neill is hoping there is a correlation between the start on the synthetic track at Turfway Park and Saturday’s race on turf.

“If that performance is any indication, he’ll run huge on grass,” he said.

Ralis is expected to be part of a small field led by the first three finishers of the Silky Sullivan Stakes for Cal-breds at Golden Gate Fields on May 1 – Gold Rush Dancer, Tough It Out, and Midnight Ming.

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why is Gary Stevens riding for the past month at Churchill downs? Please any real answers