11/26/2010 4:29PM

Sebastian Flyte primed for peak effort in Hollywood Derby

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BENOIT PHOTO
Sebatian Flyte, winning his U.S. debut at Del Mar on Sept. 4, is finally at full strength for Sunday's Hollywood Derby.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Four months after planned, Sebastian Flyte can emerge from obscurity Sunday at Hollywood Park, where the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby is his for the taking.

Ben Cecil trains Sebastian Flyte, an attractive chestnut making his third start in the U.S., and the quietly optimistic trainer admits, “I like my chances.”

He should. Sebastian Flyte, fast-closing fourth in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby, could be the most likely winner of Hollywood’s three-day Turf Festival that ends Sunday with the Grade 3 Miesque for juvenile fillies, and the 1 1/4-mile derby for 3-year-olds.

Most of the eight in the derby field are anonymous. Fantastic Pick and Blue Panis finished one-two in the 1 1/8-mile Oak Tree Derby while flattered by a slow pace; Citrus Kid also was favored by slow-pace conditions in his most recent start, a runner-up finish at Belmont Park the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap.

Others in the Hollywood Derby field are merely taking shots. Lions Story finished third last time in a second-level allowance; Juniper Pass and Jairzihno each recently won first-level allowance races; Haimish Hy ran fifth in the Oak Tree Derby.

It is not a stellar group, although the fourth-place finish by Sebastian Flyte in the Oak Tree Derby stamped the colt as a potential star. He flew the final three furlongs in about 34.20 seconds, a final eighth in 10-and-change, and missed by less than a length.

“I loved his race, I was just disappointed he didn’t win,” Cecil said.

Sebastian Flyte was purchased in Europe for $250,000 by owner Paul Boghossian (Triple B Farms), and was intended to run July 21 at Del Mar in the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds. However, Sebastian Flyte got sick, his arrival from Europe was delayed, and when he finally showed up, he was not fit to run.

“He had missed a little time, and was body sore,” Cecil said. “He couldn’t even gallop, so we just took our time. Even during Del Mar, there wasn’t a horse in my barn he could have outworked.”

Cecil and Boghossian still believed Sebastian Flyte was a good horse, but it was not until his final workout prior his Sept. 4 U.S. debut that he finally showed something. Even then, Cecil said, “I think was 75 or 80 percent [ready].”

Sebastian Flyte won that first-level allowance by a half-length, after which the 1 1/8-mile Oak Tree Derby was targeted. The morning of the draw, Cecil learned that the jockey who had been working him, Corey Nakatani, elected to ride Fantastic Pick.

Martin Garcia picked up the mount; the race was the first time Garcia had been on the horse. Sebastian Flyte, who is lazy in training and races, dropped to last while Blue Panis set slow fractions of 49.21 seconds and 1:13.24. Sebastian Flyte had no shot.

When he swung out, he flew late, finished super, and galloped out in front of the field. Since then, new jockey Joel Rosario has worked Sebastian Flyte four times. The striking chestnut figures to be positioned closer to the lead in the Derby, and he enters as the best finisher in the field.

“I think he’s going to be a pretty good horse down the road, he could be a Gio Ponti-type,” Cecil said. “And he’s better now than he was before the last race.”

Sebastian Flyte, 2 for 10, may also benefit from the extra furlong.

“A mile and a quarter, I don’t have a problem with that,” Cecil said.

One horse who might have a problem with distance is Blue Panis, runner-up in the Oak Tree Derby in his U.S. debut for French trainer Fabrice Chappet. A front-runner, Blue Panis could be loose on the lead again Sunday, but faces two hurdles – distance and the Euro-bounce.

“We’d be much more confident if it was a bit shorter,” said Chappet, who has 30 horses in Europe and two at Hollywood. Chappet admits that “distance is the main question, absolutely.”

Joe Talamo rides Blue Panis, whose first U.S. start was just days after his arrival. Chappet was asked about the bounce factor.

“I can’t tell,” Chappet said. “What I can tell is he looks great, and he’s training well. But I have no idea about that second start.”