08/06/2007 12:00AM

Turf campaign eyed for Nashoba's Key


DEL MAR, Calif. - By Monday morning, a day after Nashoba's Key had extended her unbeaten streak to six races with a trouble-plagued win in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, trainer Carla Gaines admitted that she was feeling a little fuzzy.

The details of the race remained vivid. It was the subsequent party at her Del Mar area home that was sketchy.

"You have to celebrate," she said. "You couldn't go home and call it a night. What a special filly."

Nashoba's Key's win in the Hirsch was the most thrilling victory of her brief career and not without a moment of suspense. The 4-year-old filly was stuck for racing room on the final turn of the Gradeo2 race. Jockey Joe Talamo had moved her to the rail on the backstretch to save ground, but found himself behind pacesetters River Savage and Bai and Bai and to the inside of Balance, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza.

Once Balance made a move on the leaders, Nashoba's Key followed her. When she got clear in the stretch, Nashoba's Key displayed a remarkable rally to score by 1 1/2 lengths over Bai and Bai.

"Awesome is an overused word, but I don't know how else you could describe what she did this afternoon," owner Warren Williamson said in the winner's circle. "I don't know if you'd call it a conspiracy, but it looked like it. They tried everything to beat her and it didn't work. She was gone."

Talamo, 17, did not panic when Nashoba's Key was in traffic.

"When I saw Victor moving, I knew there would be room," he said. "She can outkick those horses."

The Hirsch was Nashoba's Key third consecutive graded stakes win, all of which have come on synthetic tracks. She did not make her first start until Jan. 13, beating statebred maidens.

"I'm not sure how much more I can handle," said Williamson, 79. "At the first part of January, we had a California-bred maiden. In August, we're beating Grade 1 horses. At my age, that may never happen again."

Gaines and Williamson are planning a turf campaign over the next three months for Nashoba's Key, including the $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Sept. 29 and the $2omillion Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

Gaines became the first woman trainer to win three races in a day at Del Mar on Sunday when Made the Finals won the second race for maiden claimers and Rocky Road won an optional claimer on turf. They are both owned by Harris Farms.

Gaines downplayed the milestone.

"I don't know why they keep mentioning the woman thing, but we are in the wild, wild West," Gaines said.P

Leonetti returns from broken neck

Leonetti was sent to the farm last year after suffering a splint bone injury. It turned out to be a minor problem compared to the mishap that followed.

While recovering at the San Diego-area home of owners Jon and Sarah Kelly, Leonetti suffered a broken neck in an accident, Jon Kelly said. Leonetti needed more than eight months to recover from the injury, which makes his presence in Wednesday's third race, an optional claimer over five furlongs on turf, remarkable.

"I figured we would have to put him down," Jon Kelly said, recalling the grim outlook at the time of the injury. "He didn't sever his spinal cord. In a way, it was a perfect break."

After briefly being hospitalized, Leonetti was sent back to the Kellys where he continued his recovery. He rejoined trainer Marty Jones's stable this spring.

"It's been pretty amazing that he's been able to come back," Jones said.

Leonetti resumed working at Hollywood Park in late June. Wednesday's race fits with Leonetti's past success. A 5-year-old gelding, he won a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park in April 2006 in his second start and won an allowance race last July, his most recent start.

With his ample speed, Leonetti should be able to win over five furlongs, Jones said.

"I think he should be fit enough to do that," Jones said. "Anytime they haven't run in awhile, you're not sure."

For the Kellys, the moment Leonetti steps on the track will be gratifying. "Wednesday is a heck of a thrill for us." Jon Kelly said.

Seven will start in the race.

Similar to Leonetti, Excess Temptations is returning from a layoff of more than a year. He proved to be effective in turf sprints at Hollywood Park in the 2006 spring-summer meeting.

Owned by a partnership that includes Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher Brad Penny, Excess Temptations, 5, won his last start, an allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs in May 2006.

"It's hard to say if he'll run big off a 15-month layoff," trainer Howard Zucker said. "He's been training like a man on a mission. We're really excited to have him back."

Zucker said Excess Temptations was sidelined with a "slight soft tissue strain" and was given a longer break when a nuclear scan test showed that he was healing slowly.

"We gave him a little longer vacation," Zucker said. "He's a fresh horse coming back. We expect a pretty big effort."

Excess Temptations runs best from off the pace and will break from posto2. He may need a perfect trip to win his comeback, Zucker said.

"Going five-eighths, we don't get a chance to make too many mistakes," Zucker said.

Golden Balls targets Oak Tree meet

Golden Balls, the winner of the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita in April, will not start until the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting this fall because of a lingering foot problem, trainer Jim Cassidy said.

As recently as two weeks ago, Cassidy was hopeful that Golden Balls could start in Saturday's $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on turf at Del Mar.

Cassidy said Golden Balls has a tender foot caused by a lingering injury to a coffin bone that is believed to have occurred when he arrived from England last fall.

"It's flared up again," Cassidy said.

Golden Balls finished second to Worldly in the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

Worldly is a leading contender for the Grade 2 La Jolla over 1 1/16 miles on turf. Others likely to run include Vauquelin, a winner of a division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 18, and Stoneside, who was second in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat in France last month.

Lobo fined, stripped of purse

Trainer Paulo Lobo has been fined $3,000 and the purse of a $60,400 allowance race at Hollywood Park has been ordered redistributed by the California Horse Racing Board after race winner Right Special tested positive for an excessive amount of clenbuterol.

Lobo's fine was part of an agreement with the racing board. Right Special had earned $36,000 for winning the turf race. The purse has been redistributed to the original second- through sixth-place finishers - Macduff, Fast and Furious, Porfido, Fantastic Spain, and Dealer Choice.

Clenbuterol is a bronchial dilator used to aid horses with breathing problems. It is allowed to appear in post-race tests at minute levels.