07/23/2009 12:00AM

Rule change opens up Fleet Treat

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Benoit & Associates
Afleet Eagle, winner of the Oceanside on opening day, will point for the Del Mar Derby.

DEL MAR, Calif. - A rule change enacted earlier this year allowing horses sired by California-based stallions to run in statebred races will have a profound effect on Saturday's $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes at Del Mar.

Two of the leading contenders in the seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies were foaled in other states, but are by stallions that stood in California: Century Park is a Florida-bred by General Meeting, while Dani Reese is a Kentucky-bred by High Demand.

Dani Reese has already taken advantage of the rule change to win an optional claimer for statebred or state-sired fillies at Hollywood Park on July 3. She makes her stakes debut in the Fleet Treat, which has drawn a field of 11.

Trained by Dan Hendricks, Dani Reese made her debut with a front-running win in a seven-furlong maiden race against open company at Hollywood Park on June 14.

"It took awhile to get her running," Hendricks said. "Halfway toward her first race, she started showing us something."

Dani Reese won the optional claimer by a nose going 6 1/2 furlongs on July 3, which brought the Fleet Treat into focus for Hendricks.

"Our worry is three races in a little more than a month," Hendricks said.

Century Park is seeking to end a six-race losing streak, dating back to the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita in January. Trained by Bob Baffert, Century Park was third in an allowance race at Hollywood Park on July 9.

Among the nine California-breds, the leading contenders are Pretty Unusual and Chalula One, the first two finishers of the Melair Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 25, and Saucey Evening, the champion 2-year-old statebred filly of 2008. Trained by Graham Motion, Saucey Evening has not started since a fourth-place finish in the China Doll Stakes at Santa Anita in March.

"This seems like a good spot to come back," said Motion's assistant Alice Clapham.

Del Mar Derby next for Afleet Eagle

Afleet Eagle was sent from California to Toronto in the spring to start in two synthetic-track stakes at Woodbine. He missed both races because of illness.

It turns out his first stakes win came where his career started, back in Southern California. Making his stakes and turf debut, Afleet Eagle stormed clear in the final furlong of Wednesday's $112,800 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar.

The win left trainer Vladimir Cerin delightfully stunned and set to prepare Afleet Eagle for the $350,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 6.

"He surprised me a little," Cerin said. "I didn't think he'd explode like that.

"I think we're leaning toward the derby. The distance should be no problem and he runs well fresh."

Owned by Ron Waranch, Afleet Eagle made his first start since May 3 in the Oceanside. Ridden by Tyler Baze, Afleet Eagle was always near the front in the restricted one-mile turf race and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Mark S the Cooler.

Winter Canyon - goofball or a real runner?

Trainer Richard Mandella is not sure what to make of Winter Canyon, a $950,000 yearling purchase last September who makes his debut in a maiden race for 2-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs on Saturday.

"He's not real serious about his job," Mandella said. "He's kind of a clown and gives us a hard time. I'm hoping he'll take racing more seriously."

Winter Canyon is part of a field of 11 that includes two first-time starters trained by Bob Baffert - Marcello, by Johannesburg, and the well-regarded Tiny Woods. Trainer Craig Dollase runs Majestic Peak, a Pico Central colt with a series of strong recent workouts.

O'Neill rattled by breakdown

The fatal breakdown suffered by Mi Rey in Wednesday's third race was one of trainer Doug O'Neill's lowest moments in the sport, he said Thursday.

"You think, 'Is this worth it?' " he said at his barn.

O'Neill, 41, has won 22 training titles, most recently at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. He is best known as the trainer of Lava Man, the popular gelding who won seven Grade 1 races.

Mi Rey, a $10,000 claimer, was injured in front of the grandstand before a record ontrack crowd of 44,907, some of whom left shortly after the accident, shocked by seeing the horse struggle with a severely injured right foreleg.

O'Neill was still dealing with the widely publicized incident on Thursday.

"I feel like a guy walking around with a big target on my shirt," O'Neill said. "Who's the idiot that ruined opening day?"

O'Neill interrupted the conversation to feel the shins of the 2-year-old filly Southern Fireball. She was on her way to the track for a five-furlong workout.

"We're so thorough anyway," he said. "I've been in this game for 23 years and had so many great moments. I have to focus on the great people I've known and the great moments."