08/25/2010 4:38PM

Rosario back after bagging big game back east

Barbara D. Livingston
Joel Rosario is aboard Blind Luck as she comes back victorious from the Alabama at Saratoga.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Jockey Joel Rosario rode at Saratoga for the first time last weekend, winning the Alabama Stakes on Blind Luck. The $500,000 purse represented Rosario’s biggest win of the year.

For the next two weeks at Del Mar, Rosario has mounts in several leading races, including Dakota Phone in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic. How he does in the little races until Del Mar’s closing day on Sept. 8 will determine whether he can defend his title as the meeting’s leading rider.

Wednesday morning, Rosario, 25, had a rare morning without any workers. So he worked himself, going on a two-mile jog that is part of his exercise routine.

“I’m getting ready to ride,” he said.

Going into Wednesday’s program, Rafael Bejarano had a two-win lead over Rosario, 36-34, with 12 days of racing left at the meeting. Rosario led the standings until last week. They are well clear of Victor Espinoza and Patrick Valenzuela, who are tied for third with 19 wins.

Bejarano and Rosario are not far apart in prize money at Del Mar this summer. Rosario’s mounts have earned $1,617,087, while Bejarano’s mounts have earned $1,586,081.

For Rosario, missing a day at Del Mar and winning a major stakes at Saratoga was a key milestone.

“It’s important for my career to go to a famous track like that and win,” he said.

Rosario has had two 10-win weeks at the meeting – July 28 through Aug. 1 and Aug. 11-15. Last week, though, he had just three, which can be partially attributed to traveling.

“I’m hoping to have a little luck,” he said. “I’m hoping things keep going well for me.”

Zenyatta works half-mile

The unbeaten champion Zenyatta worked a half-mile in 51.80 seconds at Hollywood Park on Wednesday, her first workout since her 18th win in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 7.

Zenyatta worked alone under exercise rider Steve Willard. She is expected to make her next start in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes at Hollywood Park on Oct. 2. The 2010 Oak Tree meeting is scheduled for Hollywood Park from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31. The meeting was previously run at Santa Anita, but horsemen’s groups opposed running the meeting at that track this year because of concern over the condition of the synthetic racing surface.

This will be the first year for the Zenyatta Stakes. The race was known as the Lady’s Secret Stakes in past years, but was renamed the Zenyatta last fall after Zenyatta herself won the Breeders’ Cup Classic against males and was retired. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss reversed their decision in January and elected to keep Zenyatta in training this year as a 6-year-old.

This fall, Shirreffs’s plan is for Zenyatta to run in the race named after her and then in the BC Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.

“It will be our normal routine to get her up to the race,” Shirreffs said. “We’re on a seven or eight-day [workout] plan. When we get closer to the race, I’ll change it so the spacing works out.”

Victor’s Cry headed to Woodbine Mile

Victor’s Cry, the winner of the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park in May, will make his next start in the $1 million Woodbine Mile on turf in Toronto, trainer Eoin Harty said on Wednesday.

Second in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes here on July 24, Victor’s Cry is being held out of Saturday’s Grade 2 Del Mar Mile in favor of the Woodbine race. Harty said the purse of the Woodbine Mile and the race’s status makes the race attractive.

The Del Mar Mile is led by Blue Chagall, the winner of the Wickerr Stakes on July 28, and Scenic Blast, a Group 1 winner in Australia and England last year.

Trainers ponder Oak Tree’s future

With the current Oak Tree meeting having been moved to Hollywood Park, and MI Developments, which owns Santa Anita, having expressed a desire to no longer have Oak Tree as a tenant, questions are being raised by local trainers over the future of those fall dates, beginning in 2011.

Richard Mandella, a trainer and a member of Oak Tree’s board of directors, has been caught in the middle. He would prefer to remain at Santa Anita, but does not see that as a likely option. Oak Tree’s relationship with Magna has gone downhill since Magna Entertainment went bankrupt and parent company MI Developments took over and, by law, was allowed to void contracts, such as the lease with Oak Tree. Mandella said Don Mills, MI Developments’ vice chairman, has asked Oak Tree’s personnel to leave the Santa Anita grounds in December.

“We told him our contract said we could stay until June, and he said, ‘Sue us,’ so that’s the relationship we have,” Mandella said. “We’re pretty much of the opinion they don’t want us.”

Mills did not return a call seeking comment.

Mandella said Oak Tree could move its meeting to Del Mar next year.

While acknowledging having a fall meeting here would be an inconvenience to most trainers, who live in the greater Los Angeles area, “I’m asking you to keep your minds open,” Mandella said at a meeting of the California Thoroughbred Trainers earlier this week.

Both Darrell Vienna, the vice president of the trainers’ group, and Kathy Walsh, a member of its board, said they held out hope Oak Tree could return to Santa Anita in future years. Both the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California wanted Oak Tree to be moved this year because of stated concerns over the condition of Santa Anita’s current synthetic surface.

Trainer Peter Miller believes that the board of the trainers’ group will look kindly at the decision of Santa Anita to return to a dirt surface, and will be supportive of MI Developments’ chairman, Frank Stronach, if it desires the Oak Tree dates as its own, with Oak Tree no longer a tenant.

“It’s dirt for dates,” Miller said. “The CTT got a dirt track. They’ll support him getting the Oak Tree dates. I like dirt. I think we need a dirt track on this circuit. I’m all for that. But the manner in which this has been done is shameful. Oak Tree deserves better. Mark my words, the CTT and the TOC will oppose Oak Tree at Del Mar.”

– additional reporting by Jay Privman