07/06/2009 11:00PM

O'Neill looking to repeat past

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Benoit & Associates
Informed wins the Grade 2 Californian last month. Claimed for $25,000, he is headed for the Hollywood Gold Cup on Saturday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - By mid-morning on Tuesday, Doug O'Neill, the runaway leader in the trainer standings at Hollywood Park this summer, was embarking on a one-week Mediterranean cruise in Barcelona, Spain, with his family.

O Neill's stable, including Informed, a leading candidate for Saturday's $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, were in the capable hands of assistant Leandro Mora. O'Neill will not return to California until the start of next week. This greatly enhances Informed's chances in the Gold Cup.

The last time that O'Neill left the country during the summer, to visit Ireland, his Lava Man won a record-equaling third Hollywood Gold Cup in 2007.

"We're trying to keep the record intact," O'Neill said by telephone as the ship left Barcelona for Monte Carlo.

There are more similarities between Lava Man and Informed than the trainer's vacation itinerary. Lava Man was claimed for $50,000 in 2004 and went on to win seven Grade 1 races. Informed was claimed last year for $25,000 and won his first graded stakes in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes last month.

Informed won the Californian in a 14-1 upset, and is considered an outsider in a Gold Cup field that lacks a strong favorite.

"It doesn t seem like there is a super standout, and I think we have as good a chance as anyone," O'Neill said.

Informed was claimed in June 2008. This year, he has 1 victory in 5 starts and earnings of $196,179. He was second in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita in January and seventh in the $1 million Godolphin Mile in Dubai in March.

The Gold Cup will be Informed's first start at 1 1/4 miles.

"I think the promise is there," O'Neill said. "I was very impressed with his last effort."

The Gold Cup has 13 probable starters, including Parading, a two-time stakes winner this year for New York-based trainer Shug McGaughey, and Life Is Sweet, the 4-year-old filly who won the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita in March.

Life Is Sweet has been assigned 113 pounds, six fewer than Parading, the 119-pound topweight. Because of a clerical error by the Hollywood Park racing department, Life Is Sweet was incorrectly listed at 118 pounds when weights were published last weekend. With the five-pound sex allowance for females racing against males, Life Is Sweet was essentially rated at 118 pounds.

Rosario takes lead into stretch

There are eight racing days remaining in the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, and Joel Rosario has a six-win lead over Rafael Bejarano in the jockey standings.

Vic Stauffer, the Hollywood Park track announcer who also represents Rosario, is not ready to declare victory with defending champion Bejarano within striking range.

"That guy can win races in bunches," Stauffer said of Bejarano.

Joe Ferrer, who represents Bejarano, says time has run out. Ferrer rues the six days that Bejarano missed because of suspension. Bejarano missed a further five days while traveling during the weeks of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Rosario did not travel to those races.

Rosario, 24, is seeking his first riding title. Through Sunday, he had 67 wins, six more than Bejarano. Victor Espinoza is a distant third with 37 wins.

"I hope I can stay in front and keep it going," Rosario said.

Rosario pulled clear with a five-win day on Saturday, equaling the best day of his career. "I thought I'd win a couple of races but not five," Rosario said.

Sunday, Rosario was winless, while Bejarano had two wins. Rosario placed in two Grade 1 stakes on Sunday, finishing second in the American Oaks on Well Monied and third in the Triple Bend Handicap on Noble Court.

A title would give Rosario enhanced status across the nation, Stauffer said.

"Winning the title would a tremendous event for us," Stauffer said. "When I'm calling back East and can say, 'We re the leading rider at Hollywood Park,' it's a different phone call."

Bejarano, 27, has won the last six riding titles at major meetings in Southern California, a streak that began at the 2007-08 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. After the weekend, he was one win away from the 2,000th of his career, which he had a chance to attain as early as Thursday s first race on the 2-year-old maiden Rote.

Colt puts on show in maiden win

The most entertaining performance by a 2-year-old in California this year has to be Hurricane Ike's win in a five-furlong maiden race last Sunday.

Ridden by Bejarano, Hurricane Ike was with the leaders for the first furlong before lugging out and seemingly dropping out of contention on the turn. With a sustained four-wide rally, Hurricane Ike ran down the 5-2 favorite, Lions Story, to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 58.93 seconds.

"He's a bit green, to say the least," winning trainer John Sadler said after the race.

Owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, Hurricane Ike has earned a start in the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 9. A colt by Graeme Hall, Hurricane Ike was purchased for $115,000 at the Ocala Breeders Sales yearling sale in August 2008.

Roman Counsel, who won a five-furlong maiden race on Sunday in his third start, will return for the $100,000 Graduation Stakes for statebreds at Del Mar on July 29, trainer Mike Harrington said. Owned by Heinz Steinmann, Roman Counsel was second, beaten a neck and a nose, in his first two starts.

In Thursday s first race, the 2-year-old filly Mi Sueno, a $1.7 million weaning purchase, makes her second start in a six-furlong maiden race.

Trained by Eric Guillot, Mi Sueno was second to Necessary Evil in a maiden race on May 31. Necessary Evil may face males in Sunday s $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs, said her trainer, O'Neill.