09/25/2012 1:59PM

Stockton: Cougarstown a profitable surprise in Harvest Stakes


Trainer Keith Nations wasn’t surprised when Cougarstown went off as the second-longest shot in the field of nine fillies and mares in the Harvest Stakes at the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton.

But he was as pleasantly surprised as those who cashed $38.60 mutuel tickets when Cougarstown, a 4-year-old Speightstown filly, won the race, covering six furlongs in 1:08.81 while beating Blendara by three-quarters of a length.

“No question, I was extremely surprised,” Nations said of his trip to the winner’s circle. “It’s really great to get a win, especially when it’s a surprise like this.”

Cougarstown won two straight at the fairs this summer, graduating at Pleasanton and then winning a five-furlong starter allowance turf sprint at Santa Rosa.

In her previous start at Golden Gate Fields, Cougarstown was six lengths in front at the quarter-mile and five in front after a half-mile before fading to fourth in an allowance race.

“Originally, we thought it would be a small field, but when I saw 17 were nominated, I said, ‘Oh, crap,’ ” Nations said.

Nations, who had claimed the filly for $32,000 out of her debut May 5, 2011, for Edward and Theresa DeNike, talked it over with the owners and said, “Ed pulled the trigger. Off Tapeta” – where she had three seconds, including two in photos in six starts. “She’d never run a bad race.”

After the claim, Cougarstown, who finished sixth in her debut, was held out of action for four months and then ran seventh.

“We liked her breeding,” Nations said. “She’s out of a stakes-winning mare” – Bertrando’s daughter Fair Apache – “and by Speightstown, who is a very nice sire. She was small, and we weren’t sure we made a good claim. We ran her one time and thought she needed to grow.”

Cougarstown had made six starts this year before the Harvest, setting the pace to the stretch in every race.

She needed to finish better, so Nations gave her a pair of slow seven-furlong works before the Harvest. Jockey Eric Camacho, who rode her to victory in the Harvest, was up during a 1:32.20 drill Sept. 14.

“The last time we worked her, Eric really got her to relax, and she finished up really good,” Nations said. “It translated nicely into the race. Eric did a great job getting her to relax. He only kept her a length in front instead of three or four.”

As rivals loomed up in the stretch, Nations admitted he wasn’t feeling particularly confident. He was simply hoping his filly could hold on for third and at least become stakes-placed.

Instead, she dug in and never really looked in danger of losing.

“Her heart grew, and my heart grew with each stride,” Nations said.

Nations said the filly appeared to come out of the race “great,” but she will still need time before coming back. He may look for something at Santa Anita, although Cal Cup on Oct. 13 will come up too quickly for her.

Bittersweet victory

Nations didn’t get to enjoy Cougarstown’s victory after the race because of a fatal breakdown by Top Debutante in the lane. Defending champ Special Holiday also fell, unable to avoid the fallen filly.

“It was bittersweet,” Nations said. “We were very proud of the filly, but, at the time, there was no celebrating.”

Both jockeys Abel Cedillo, aboard Top Debutante, and Frank Alvarado, aboard Special Holiday, complained of soreness but walked off the track. Alvarado later went to a local hospital to have his ribs checked, but the ribs were only bruised.

Next year’s schedule set

The California Horse Racing Board allocated racing dates for 2013. Golden Gate Fields will run from Dec. 26, 2012, to June 18, 2013. It will also run from Aug. 14-Sept. 17 and Oct. 16-Dec. 25.

The fair circuit will be the Alameda County Fair (Pleasanton) June 19-July 9, State Fair (Sacramento) July 10-23, Sonoma County Fair (Santa Rosa) July 24-Aug. 13, Humboldt County Fair (Ferndale) Aug. 14-25, San Joaquin Fair (Stockton) Sept. 18-Oct. 1, and Big Fresno Fair Oct. 2-15.

◗ The annual Northern California meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California will be 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Bayview Lounge at Golden Gate Fields. The meeting will update members on news, including a question-and-answer session, handicapping contest, and complimentary lunch. Reservations can be made by contacting the owners’ group at (626) 574-6620.