06/08/2009 11:00PM

Song of Navarone set for Californian


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Song of Navarone barely survived his 3-year-old year. After winning the $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in March 2007, the colt came down with a bacterial infection in his stomach that ended his campaign and almost ended his career.

"He was real sick, he was on his deathbed," trainer Henry Dominguez said.

It took Song of Navarone a year and a half to make it back, but since returning he has won 5 of 7 at Sunland, Zia Park and Lone Star and boosted his record to 8 for 12 with earnings of $667,158.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, the New Mexico-based 5-year-old takes on what is left of the West Coast handicap division in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Californian.

"The handicap division is weaker this year than usual, and it figured he would fit with these," Dominguez said.

The truth is, Song of Navarone might win the Californian if he reproduces the Beyer Speed Figure of 106 he earned finishing a troubled third in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 25. The loss ended a four-race win streak, and Dominguez believes it was a bad trip - shuffled back and wide - that got him beaten.

"I think he was the best horse that day. He deserves a shot in a Grade 2," he said.

It will be Song of Navarone's second start in California. He was third in the Grade 3 Sham in February 2007 at Santa Anita in his fourth career start.

Song of Navarone arrived at Hollywood on Monday. Victor Espinoza will ride him in a wide-open Californian expected to include Rail Trip, Aitcho, Awesome Gem, Ball Four, Dakota Phone, Informed, Limestone Edge, Mr. Napper Tandy, and Ukiah.

Giving synthetic a try

Mr. Napper Tandy won the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile on grass in his most recent start April 25, and trainer Jack Carava is hopeful he reproduces his form when he switches to synthetic for the Californian.

"I don't like the dirt part of it," Carava said, referring to the dirt-like Cushion Track. "But the timing of it is good, he is training good, and there's really not much for him the rest of the meet. The distances of the turf races are all too far."

Julio Garcia will ride Mr. Napper Tandy, who is a best at a mile. Carava said the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on Aug. 2 at Del Mar is on his agenda.

Witty back in training

The unbeaten Railbird Stakes winner Witty looks better all the time. The 3-year-old filly got sick and missed the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks on Sunday, but she was flattered when Railbird runner-up Carlsbad became the third filly to win next out after finishing behind Witty in the Railbird. Also-rans Strawberry Tart and Burg Berg also returned to win.

The workmanlike Oaks victory by Carlsbad suggests Witty would have been tough in that race.

"She didn't get real sick, just enough I couldn't run her," trainer Richard Mandella said.

Tuesday at Santa Anita she returned to training, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.

What's next? "Lots of possibilities," Mandella said, citing the $100,000 Flawlessly Stakes at a mile on turf July 3 at Hollywood and the Grade 1 Test Stakes on Aug. 8 at Saratoga.

Patricia's Gem eyes Royal Heroine

Most horses would not stick around for the finish of a mile turf race at Hollywood after smoking the opening half-mile in a quick 46.34 seconds. But that is exactly what Patricia's Gem did Sunday in a second-level allowance, and her wire-to-wire win sets her up for a July 11 pace duel with front-runner Tuscan Evening in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine at a mile on turf.

The win was the third straight for 4-year-old Patricia's Gem, a $1.75 million filly sired by Mineshaft who was away from the races from fall 2007 until spring 2009.

"She injured her pelvis," said her trainer, Mandella. "It lit up on a scan, we gave her four months, and it bothered her again, so we gave her another four months."

Eight months became 18 months, but the wait was worth it.

"She's got loads of talent and is gorgeous to look at," Mandella said, adding he believes she is up to the challenge of tougher company in the Royal Heroine. "She's got a lot going for her. I'm sure it will be tougher, but it's time to try." Patricia's Gem is owned by B. Wayne Hughes.

Kelly Leak getting ready return

Three months after winning the year's most productive 3-year-old stakes, Sunland Derby winner Kelly Leak is nearing a June 20 comeback. Trainer Mike Machowsky said Kelly Leak will return in the Grade 3 Affirmed, which will be his first start since the May 29 Sunland Derby, which produced five next-out winners including Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby.

Kelly Leak worked seven furlongs Sunday at Santa Anita in 1:27.40.

"He got a little tired, he was blowing," trainer Mike Machowsky said, "but he hasn't run in three months."

Kelly Leak had an ulcer on his epiglottis that knocked him from training. Kelly Leak has won 3 of 8. His main summer goal is the first weekend of August. Machowsky plans to ship Kelly Leak to Mountaineer for the $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 1, or to Monmouth for the $1 million Haskell on Aug. 2.

* Jockey Martin Pedroza returns Thursday at Hollywood to ride for the first time since fracturing his pelvis Jan. 11 in a post-parade accident at Santa Anita. Pedroza, who has been working horses for a month, is named on two horses Thursday. He rides Fifty K in race 3, and Cougarette in race 8.

* Aaron Gryder picked has picked up the mount on Santa Teresita, who runs Saturday at Churchill Downs in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap.

* Indian Blessing posted a bullet workout Tuesday at Santa Anita, a half-mile in 46.80. Trainer Bob Baffert has not committed to a comeback race for the 4-year-old filly. Indian Blessing, with 9 wins and 4 seconds from 13 starts, finished second in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen in Dubai on March 28.