10/28/2010 4:48PM

O'Neill loaded for California Cup card

Benoit & Associates
Enriched, with jockey Joel Rosario up, wins the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on Aug. 28 at Del Mar. Enriched, trained by Doug O’Neill, will take on Cal-breds in Saturday’s $150,000 California Cup Classic at Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Every fall for 20 years, the one-day California Cup program was among the well-attended highlights of the Oak Tree race meet at Santa Anita.

Times have changed. The California Cup will be held for the 21st time Saturday, and for the first time it will be run somewhere other than Santa Anita.

Oak Tree and the seven-stakes Cal Cup program moved this fall to Hollywood Park, where Cal Cup attendance Saturday is expected to fall short of the 17,885 at the Cal Cup in 2009 at Santa Anita.

Ten races for California-breds will be run Saturday. The richest is the $150,000 California Cup Classic (race 9) featuring Enriched, but the $100,000 Cal Cup Mile (race 8) on turf might be the best on the card.

Liberian Freighter and Colgan’s Chip, one-two finishers three weeks ago in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile, face unlucky Bruce’s Dream, a troubled third by a length in his last start Aug. 28 in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile Handicap.

The card includes Grade 1-winning sprinter Cost of Freedom in the $100,000 Cal Cup Sprint (race  1) at six furlongs, stakes winners U R All That I Am and La Nez in the $100,000 Cal Cup Distaff (race 4) at six furlongs on turf, and Lady Railrider trying to win the 1  1/16-mile $100,000 Matron (race 5) for a second straight year.

Two $75,000 stakes for 2-year-olds have returned to the traditional 1 1/16-mile distance. The Juvenile Fillies (race 7) includes sharp maiden winner California Nectar, while the Juvenile (race 10) includes recent maiden winners Slammer Time and Woodmans Luck.

“It’s a day that is like the Breeders’ Cup for California-breds,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. Obvious differences are that Cal Cup races are easier and less expensive.

“There is no entry fee, the purses are nice, and it’s a great day to celebrate owners of California-breds,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill is loaded Saturday, with entrants in seven races. His best shot is Enriched, the likely favorite for the Classic. A field of eight entered the 1 1/8-mile race, including stakes winners Unusual Suspect and Cayambe, and longshots Mobilized, My Boy Walsh, Low Gear Power, Lodi Red, and Soul Candy.

O’Neill claimed Enriched for $32,000 last Nov. 1. After all, he had a familiar pedigree. Sired by High Brite, Enriched is a half-brother to the best horse O’Neill has trained.

“He was Lava Man’s little brother, and at that price it wasn’t a huge risk,” O’Neill said. “We figured we were buying a legitimate [$32,000] or $40,000 claimer.”

It turns out they bought a lot more. In 13 starts since the claim, Enriched has won three races and more than $350,000. Enriched is dropping out of the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, and if he can stay 1 1/8 miles Saturday, he should be gone.

“It does look like a mile is more his zone, but he acts like a horse that nine furlongs won’t be a problem,” O’Neill said.

Joel Rosario rides Enriched, whose front-running style could put him loose on the lead. The pace scenario does not benefit his main rival.
Unusual Suspect is a 6-year-old warrior with 8 wins from 53 starts and earnings of $855,171. Barry Abrams trains the son of Unusual Heat, a deep closer.

“If Enriched gets an easy lead, nobody can beat him,” Abrams said. “But if Enriched does not fire, I think [Unusual Suspect] will win the race.”

The Cal Cup Classic represents a drop in class for Unusual Suspect, who has not faced statebred company since January.

“This is probably the easiest competition he has faced in many months,” Abrams said.

He also has lost 15 straight, and Abrams recognizes the flaw.

“Is he just a common horse that picks up a check? I don’t know,” Abrams said.

Abrams credits the durability of Unusual Suspect to his running style.

“His longevity is because he only runs the last eighth,” Abrams said.

Pat Valenzuela rides Unusual Suspect.

Cayambe won the Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Handicap at 25-1 last time out, and he might be positioned closest to Enriched. Meanwhile, turf-to-Cushion Track Soul Candy will be running late.

“It’s his first start on synthetic, but it’s the Cal Cup and you take a shot,” trainer Paddy Gallagher said. “It’s a good day out for California breeders.”