12/16/2009 12:00AM

Small consolation prize for big effort


Winning a Breeders' Cup race - any Breeders' Cup race - can make a fellow feel like he's sitting on top of the racing world. Still, it's never a good idea to get used to the view.

Brian Koriner had the biggest day of his training career on Nov. 7 when the Keith Card-owned California Flag came flying down the Santa Anita hillside to win the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint by 1 3/4 lengths. No sooner had the print dried on the charts that Koriner had California Flag on a plane to the Far East, hoping to strike while the gray gelding was hot in the $1.2 million Hong Kong Sprint.

While in Hong Kong, Koriner and his horse spent most of their time in the small type beneath the glowing reports of the Australian contingent that supposedly had a lock on the Sprint. There was also local hero Sacred Kingdom and fellow American Cannonball, which didn't leave a whole lot of attention left for the rangy Cal-bred and his former Quarter Horse trainer.

Then California Flag went out and ran a huge race. He took the lead with his usual aplomb and was settling nicely for Joe Talamo when, from the outside, the Japanese longshot Laurel Guerriero appeared, his rider hustling hard, to contest the pace.

From that point onward, California Flag was stuck in the toughest spot possible for a front-running sprinter, with pressure from the outside and neither the time nor the opportunity to ease back and around. By the time California Flag entered the final straightaway, Laurel Guerriero had coughed it up and was retreating through the field. California Flag still had the lead with a sixteenth of a mile to run, but the earlier pressure had taken its toll. He was passed first by the eventual winner, Sacred Kingdom, and then caught in the final strides by One World, Joy and Fun, and Green Birdie.

"I don't know what the jock on the Japanese horse was trying to do," Koriner said this week, after returning home. "We were already a length, length and a half in front, and he sent his horse as hard as he could. When I saw him flying up on the outside, and the way he was doing it, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And it wasn't like here, where I could go down to the track afterwards and scream at the guy like an idiot."

There was a certain dark humor to Koriner's tone, typical of members of his profession when everything goes right until everything goes wrong.

"Everybody gave him a lot of credit," Koriner added. "I haven't watched that much international racing to know, but they acted afterwards like any horse who dueled like he did and ran as well as he did was quite an effort."

Koriner was with California Flag practically from the moment the horse arrived, which meant for the first four days of his trip he was pretty much on his own. The Hong Kong Jockey Club picked up the tab for only the four days immediately preceding the race.

"It's a crazy country, and they've obviously got a lot of money," said Koriner, who had previous international experience with two runners in Dubai's Golden Shaheen. "People are out shopping and eating all the time. Nobody seems to be worried about anything. The first day I got there I went to Macau. Took the boat over, went to the Wynn and the MGM, then I took the helicopter back. The hour boat ride was too boring."

Most horsemen are able to compartmentalize when they partake in such international racing festivals. They can have a good meal and enjoy the sights, but they are always prepared for the worst. California Flag certainly held up his end of the deal.

"He never quit drinking, never quit eating, and then he was a length and three-quarters away from $800,000," Koriner said. "We only got $50,000, so you're really let down, because the horse ran his eyeballs out, and you know it's hard on them. Then you come home and see in the Santa Anita condition book the $100,000 Sensational Star coming down the hill for Cal-breds on the first of January. And you start thinking, 'Did I do the right thing?' I mean, I think I did, but the point is to win races."

Koriner also came home to the realization that his best 2-year-old, Get My Fix, came out of his most recent workout with a bone chip in an ankle. Get My Fix was second in the Hollywood Prevue on Nov. 21, finishing just a half-length back of the highly-touted American Lion. Koriner had planned on running Get My Fix in the Hollywood Futurity this Saturday.

"He was going so good, so sound and strong, that I thought I finally had got one that could get me going in the right direction on the Derby trail," Koriner said. "I was getting pretty excited. I was still in Hong Kong and got a real good report about the work. Then the next day when I called the barn, he had a filling in the ankle he'd never had before. My stomach just dropped."

Get My Fix was scheduled to undergo surgery to remove the chip on Friday. In the meantime, California Flag is back in the States, going through a brief quarantine period at Hollywood Park before he returns to training at Koriner's Santa Anita stable. His main target for early 2010 could be a race in Dubai, at the new Meydan facility with its synthetic and turf tracks.

"There's rumors the sprint [Golden Shaheen] will be run on the grass," Koriner said. "That would be great for him. And I don't think the Japanese horse will be there."