10/08/2011 12:48PM

Santa Anita: Great Warrior returns to turf for Oak Tree Derby


ARCADIA, Calif. – Briefly in late August, trainer A.C. Avila considered giving the 3-year-old Great Warrior his stakes debut in the $1 million Pacific Classic against older horses.

Great Warrior was entered in the Pacific Classic, but did not start. Avila later decided that staying in the 3-year-old division had more appeal.

The plan has worked. Great Warrior has thrived in the last six weeks. After finishing second by a nose in the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar on Sept. 2, Great Warrior rebounded to score a four-length win in the Pomona Derby at Fairplex Park on Sept. 24.

Saturday, Great Warrior starts for the first time in a graded stakes in the $150,000 Oak Tree Derby, a Grade 2 stakes over 1 1/8 miles on turf. The Oak Tree Derby will be Great Warrior’s first start on turf since a second in an optional claimer to Cloud Man at Del Mar on July 22. Cloud Man is another candidate for the Oak Tree Derby.

Avila is not concerned about the switch in surfaces, considering that Great Warrior has run on a synthetic track and a dirt track in his last two starts.

“He can do it,” Avila said.

Furthermore, Avila was enthused about the way that Great Warrior has trained in recent weeks since the Pomona Derby win.

“He galloped unbelievably,” Avila said on Saturday morning.

The Oak Tree Derby lacks a clear standout. Aside from Cloud Man and Great Warrior, the list of candidates includes Dreamy Kid, who won the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park in July; Midnight Interlude, who won the Santa Anita Derby in April and was second by a nose in the Del Mar Derby last month; and the French invader Venomous, who was third in the French 2000 Guineas in May.

Two Grade 1 winners retired

The Grade 1 winning geldings Dancing in Silks and Georgie Boy have been retired, trainer Kathy Walsh said.

Dancing in Silks is best known for winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita for trainer Carla Gaines in a 25-1 upset. It was the last win of his career.

Owned by Ken Kinakin, Dancing in Silks was with Gaines’s stable until early 2011 before being transferred to Walsh. For Walsh, Dancing in Silks made three starts earlier this year, with a third in the Sensational Star Handicap in February his best finish.

Dancing in Silks, a 6-year-old gelding by Black Minnaloushe, ended his career with 7 wins in 21 starts and earnings of $1,492,715.

“He wasn’t going to come back to the same level,” Walsh said.

Walsh said that Pam Gomez, the wife of jockey Garrett Gomez, has Dancing in Silks in her care, for a likely retraining for a second career.

Georgie Boy won 6 of 11 starts and $788,634, including the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity in 2007. Plagued by minor ailments, Georgie Boy did not race after a win in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita in February 2009. Walsh said the decision to retire Georgie Boy was made in consultation with owner-breeder George Schwary.

“He could have come back but I wasn’t going to run him in a claimer,” Walsh said.