07/19/2010 6:48PM

Ultra Blend may head to Del Mar


Trainer Steve Sherman had to study the Del Mar condition book to find a race for his talented 3-year-old sprinter Goggles McCoy.

But after Ultra Blend’s solid victory in the California State Fair Sprint on Saturday, he may have to check out Del Mar races for fillies and mares as well.

“I’d like to keep her up here,” Sherman said, but it’s a long time until the Harvest Stakes, a $50,000 six-furlong stakes for fillies and mares on Oct. 10 at Fresno.

There is the $50,000 Luther Burbank at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Santa Rosa on July 31, but Sherman wants more than two weeks before running Ultra Blend again. Although she has shown she can handle the turf and ran second in the Sandy Blue at one mile on grass at Del Mar last August in her final 2009 outing, she would be facing the tough Lady Railrider as well as making a quick turnaround.

“Hopefully, there will be something like an allowance race at the [September] Golden Gate meet,” Sherman said.

The only two stakes that Golden Gate Fields will offer at its short meet in September are a pair of 2-year-old routes, the Rosie the Riveter at 1 1/16 miles for fillies on Labor Day and the Angel Island on Sept. 11. Both are $50,000-added events.

Ultra Blend has proven competitive down south where she has placed in three stakes, including a second in the Grade 3 Santa Paula. She also has a pair of fourths, including the Grade 2 Railbird.

Both her stakes victories came in Northern California, where she also won the Tiburon as a 3-year-old. She was third when favored against colts in the King Glorious at Golden Gate before heading south.

“She can win up here a little easier, and I thought it was important for her to get a win Saturday,” Sherman said.

The State Fair Sprint was only Ultra Blend’s second start since running second in the Sandy Blue at Del Mar last August. She ran third in a six-furlong turf sprint at Hollywood Park on June 23, losing by a half-length.

“I didn’t think she’d bounce,” Sherman said. “She was training good, looking good, and she kept good weight. I knew she’d compete. She’s gutsy and always gives 150 percent.”

Sherman admits he was wrong in his initial assessment of the Richly Blended filly, owned by Nels Erickson. She was very lackadaisical in her early training, and Sherman confesses, “She’s totally outperformed what I expected.”

As a California-bred, Ultra Blend is “not limited for spots” according to Sherman. She has run well on synthetic surfaces, turf, and has proven she can handle two turns.

Just the Tickets among mules

With no Thoroughbred stakes offered the closing week of the state fair, mules will be in spotlight as Bar JF Hot Ticket and Bar JF Red Ticket renew their rivalry.

The Tickets are full sisters by Sterling Sweet Water out of Holdalltickets. They are the two top mules currently racing, although Red Ticket ran third here at 3-10 last week when she broke slowly and didn’t get rolling until too late.

Hot Ticket, who is 7, has won 36 of 44 starts, finishing off the board only once in her career.

Red Ticket, 5, has 15 wins, five seconds, and a third in 22 starts.

Ray Thomas trains Hot Ticket, while his wife, Ruby, trains Red Ticket.

Black Ruby is the measuring stick for mules, and Hot Ticket is certainly approaching her for consistency. Red Ticket plays the role of Taz, who was Alydar to Black Ruby’s Affirmed in their heyday.

“Everybody looks up to them,” Ray Thomas says of the Tickets.

Hot Ticket is owned by Dave Wood of Harris Farms, where she stays when she is not racing.

Red Ticket is owned by Don Jacklin and Becky Reimers.

“I think Ray’s under more pressure than I am,” said Ruby, who beat him in the final race of 2009 at Fresno and in the first race of 2010 at Winnemucca, Nev. “Every time we outrun her, we’re happy.”

Ray Thomas has trained stakes-winning Thoroughbreds and champion Appaloosas and uses those experiences in training Hot Ticket.

“I give her lots of gallops, like Thoroughbreds, usually five days a week,” he said. “Both of them like to work, and they’re real competitive.”

Thomas said he also does a lot of gate work with Hot Ticket.

Ruby Thomas says Red Ticket enjoys being on the track and usually jogs a mile each day.

Black Ruby could be a handful in the barn. Ruby Thomas said Red Ticket “has a little more attitude” than Hot Ticket, who is “very kind” according to Ray.

“I’ve had a lot of good horses,” he said, “but she is one of my favorite animals I’ve ever had.”

Mules were often little more than a curiosity when they first appeared at the races. It was frequently more fun watching riders try to pull them up than the races themselves, but that has changed.

“They’re bred better,” Ray Thomas said. “People take them serious now, and they approach it like training a horse.”

Some people in the racing industry wonder if the Thomases are dominating mule racing as trainer Don Collins and owner-breeder Edward Allred did Appaloosas. That dominance led to a demise in Appaloosa racing on the fairs.

Ray Thomas admits, “I think we’ve got some pretty good ones, but we don’t have the volume. He had the best in the country, and he had so many of them, he’d be running seven or eight sometimes.”

Handle drops

Following a national trend, handle at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif., dipped slightly this year, showing a 12 percent drop on track and 14 percent drop in all-sources live handle.

The ontrack handle for 15 dates was $5,468,668 this year, a daily average of $364,578, compared with $6,222,349 and $414,823 daily in 2009. The all-source handle, including satellite, out-of-state, and advance-deposit wagering, was $21,058.341, averaging $1,403,889, compared to 2009’s total of $24,577,156 or $1,638,477 daily.

Wagering at satellite facilities fell 13 percent from $15,516,062 to $13,475,914.Attendance, based on program sales and other factors, was steady with 60,065 estimated this year and 60,318 last year. Overall, the fair topped the 400,000 mark in attendance, drawing 418,000 this year after attracting 432,000 last year.