08/03/2012 12:44PM

Santa Rosa: Nations sends Hexbreaker and Control Seeker in stakes


Trainer Keith Nations hopes to do a lot of celebrating Sunday when his wife comes to Northern California wine country from Seattle to celebrate her birthday.

He’s hoping to add to the festivities with a pair of trips to the winner’s circle in the $50,000 Jess Jackson Owners’ Handicap and the $50,000 Joseph T. Grace Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa.

Nations will send out Hexbreaker against seven rivals in the five-furlong Jess Jackson and Control Seeker in the 1 1/16-mile Joseph T. Grace. Both races are for 3-year-olds and up on the turf.

Lloyd Mason is the only other trainer who will be represented in both races, with Shudacudawudya running in the Jess Jackson and Dunmore East in the Joseph Grace.

Nations claimed both Hexbreaker and Control Seeker for Edward and Theresa DeNike.

Hexbreaker, who will be making his turf debut in the Jess Jackson, may have the tougher assignment as he goes against Ain’t No Other, who finished first but was disqualified to third in last year’s inaugural running of the Jess Jackson. Starboardlights, who was moved up from third to second in the disqualification, is also entered in Sunday’s running.

Since joining Nations’s barn in 2009, Hexbreaker has won seven races and earned $200,578. His only other stakes appearance was a seventh in last year’s Oakland Handicap at Golden Gate Fields. Hexbreaker comes off a fourth-place finish June 22 in a Pleasanton optional-claiming sprint, which was his first start in two months.

“We’d really been looking for a spot on turf,” said Nations of Hexbreaker. “He has some turf breeding, and his feet look like other horses that have run well on turf.”

With Ain’t No Other and Starboardlights assuring a fast pace, Nations expects the race to set up well for Hexbreaker, who ususally stalks the pace.

“He’s one of those old horses who just does his job,” said Nations. “He’s really cool to be around. We’ve spread his races out and don’t run every chance we can.”

In the Jess Jackson, the connections of each horse can pick their own weight – presumably the minimum the jockey can ride at. Nations has Hexbreaker carrying 112 pounds under Francisco Duran. Hexbreaker has won the last three times Duran rode him.

“Duran fits the horse well,” said Nations.

Control Seeker faces nine rivals in the wide-open Joseph T. Grace. Dunmore East, fourth in last year’s stakes, is the only returnee from the 2011 field.

Nations will also use Duran aboard Control Seeker, whom he claimed for the DeNikes for $25,000 on July 1, 2011 at Betfair Hollywood Park. Control Seeker was eased in the race but in seven starts since then Control Seeker has a win, two seconds, and a third.

“He seems to be getting better even though he hasn’t run a big race yet,” said Nations. “I think he’s better on turf and hope this is the day he puts it all together.

He comes off a second-place finish on the dirt in a Sacramento optional claimer, and before that ran third in an optional claimer June 16 on the Golden Gate turf.

Nine of the 10 Joseph T. Grace entrants ran in that June 16 turf race at Golden Gate Fields, which was won by Sunday entrant Duke of Doom. Where’s the Remote ran second and returns in the Grace.