10/29/2010 2:12PM

Turning Top looks to step into void in Las Palmas

Benoit & Associates
Turning Top is expected to start as the favorite in Sunday’s Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – A leaderless California female turf division seeks clarity Sunday at Hollywood Park, closing day of the Oak Tree meet. Racing continues Thursday night, the opening program of the traditional autumn race meet at Hollywood.

Eight fillies and mares entered the Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap, a mile grass race won last year by Tuscan Evening. She won eight graded stakes, including six straight, before her tragic death from a heart attack in August.

Since then, the local division has bogged. Shippers won both subsequent Grade 1 female turf races – Wasted Tears took the John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar and Hibaayeb won the Yellow Ribbon at Hollywood. Gotta Have Her, winner of the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar, was retired.

Turning Top will try to fill the void in the Las Palmas. Runner-up by a length last out in the Yellow Ribbon, her effort Sunday will shed light on the form of Yellow Ribbon winner Hibaayeb, who was pre-entered for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Simon Callaghan trains the Irish-bred Turning Top, a 4-year-old whose form in Europe was unremarkable. She won just one race and $12,213 from nine starts in England. Turning Top turned the corner this year in California, winning four races and $214,730 from eight starts, including a win in the Grade 3 Beverly Hills Handicap in June at Hollywood.

Based on her runner-up finish last out in the 1 1/4-mile Yellow Ribbon, Turning Top and jockey Brice Blanc are expected to start favored in the Las Palmas.

Another filly imported from Europe may provide the stiffest challenge. Blue Maiden, Group 3-placed in England, was sent to trainer Richard Mandella at Del Mar for the summer turf series for 3-year-old fillies, but her U.S. debut was postponed until the final week of the meet.

In her Sept. 3 comeback, Blue Maiden finished second in an allowance for 3-year-old fillies. Second time out, she crushed older allowance fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths while geared down at the finish by jockey Joel Rosario.

Although traditional class handicapping suggests the jump from a first-level allowance to Grade 2 is overly ambitious, Blue Maiden was competitive against group company overseas and enters the Las Palmas with a six-pound weight break (119-113) over Turning Top and a conspicuous pattern of improvement.

Other starters include likely pacesetter Briecat, Westwood Pride, Distinctive, Wynning Ride, Princess Taylor, and Value Stream.