06/27/2013 1:04PM

Pleasanton: Nations expects big race from Control Seeker in County of Alameda Handicap

Vassar Photography
Summer Hit, the winner of the Grade 3 All American at Golden Gate Fields in May, likely will have the early lead in Saturday's County of Alameda Handicap.

Midway through the fair circuit last summer, trainer Keith Nations noticed a difference in Control Seeker and predicted a big race for him. Control Seeker responded by winning the Joseph T. Grace Handicap on the turf at Santa Rosa and later won the Bulldog Handicap on the dirt at Fresno.

After entering the 7-year-old Control Seeker in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile, $50,000 County of Alameda Handicap at the Alameda County Fair, Nations made a similar prediction.

“I think he’s sitting on a really big race,” Nations said.

Nations stopped short of predicting victory because Summer Hit is drawn next to Control Seeker. Summer Hit has never finished off the board in 11 career starts. In his last two starts, he set the pace only to lose by a neck in the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile on turf at Golden Gate Fields and then scored a front-running victory in the Grade 3 All American over Golden Gate’s Tapeta synthetic main track.

“Summer Hit, on his best day, is very tough,” Nations said. “If he’s not on top of his game or has problems in his first try on dirt, or if the weight switch makes a difference, it could be a good race.”

Summer Hit’s speed should play well on the Pleasanton dirt track, and even Nations concedes the lead to him.

“He’ll be on the lead, with us stalking him,” said Nations, envisioning a pace scenario similar to that in the All American.

Summer Hit, an improving 4-year-old Bertrando gelding trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, will be spotting his rivals 7 to 15 pounds after running at equal weights in his past two starts. He carries a career-high 125 pounds, with Control Seeker carrying 118.

Nations won’t say that Control Seeker, who finished nearly nine lengths behind Summer Hit in the San Francisco Mile and 5 1/2 lengths back in the All American, could have beaten his rival in either race, but he took the blame for the disappointing performances.

“In the San Francisco Mile, we tried to take him back, and he didn’t like it at all,” he said. “Last time [in the All American], I trained him too light.”

But now, with a different work and gallop pattern and the fact that he’s eating better, Control Seeker will come into the race with a shiny, dappled coat and in much better shape.

“He looks better than he’s ever looked,” Nations said.

Nations also entered the stakes-placed Slim Pickins, a turf winner in his last start.

“The last was the best race of his career,” Nations said.

Multiple stakes winner Positive Response, last year’s runner-up, also is entered, along with Siberian Laughter, Pepnic, and Tribal Tribute.