07/14/2010 6:28PM

Road warrior Gayego heads west for Triple Bend

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Traveling seems to suit Gayego, who makes his 2010 American debut in Saturday’s $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

In the last 18 months, Gayego has made two trips from the United States to Godolphin Racing’s winter base in Dubai, and one trip from New York to California last fall for an autumn campaign that nearly ended with a championship.

Gayego won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita last October, and was fourth, beaten just a neck, in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. A win there might have led to the Eclipse Award.

Early 2010 has been different. Gayego was second and eighth in two stakes in Dubai, failing to impress. In recent months, Gayego has been based at Belmont Park. The Grade 1 Triple Bend will be Gayego’s first start at Hollywood Park since he set a track record of 1:13.37 in an optional claimer in November 2008, a performance that led to him being acquired by Godolphin.

Rick Mettee, an assistant trainer for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing, admits the journey to the Triple Bend is a different way to start a season.

“It’s not what we generally like to do, to put a horse on a cross-country journey for his first start of the year,” he said. “This isn’t the toughest race, but it’s a good race.”

Mettee dismisses Gayego’s Dubai results earlier this year, saying the 5-year-old horse did not thrive on the Tapeta synthetic track. Gayego was eighth in the $2 million Golden Shaheen on such a surface at Meydan racecourse on March 27.

“He didn’t run at all,” Mettee said.

Gayego is the 122-pound top weight in a Triple Bend field that includes Fantasy Free, winner of the Tiznow Stakes for statebreds in April, and My Summer Slew, who captured the Robert Kerlan Handicap on turf on June 27. Another starter, M One Rifle, won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes last December, but was fourth in the Los Angeles Handicap.

Trainer Bob Baffert starts E Z’s Gentlemen, who was a game second in the Grade 2 Los Angeles Handicap on June 5, and Sangaree, who was second to Hollywood Gold Cup favorite Rail Trip in two stakes in the spring.

“It would be good if he can win a Grade 1,” Baffert said of Sangaree. ”I think he’s got a better chance going seven-eighths.”