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Yankee Bravo making return on turf
DEL MAR, Calif. - Earlier this year, Yankee Bravo did just enough to keep him on track for the Triple Crown races. After beginning his career on turf, he made a successful switch to dirt and synthetic surfaces, with a win in the California Derby at Golden Gate, a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, and a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby.
Insufficient earnings in graded stakes made participating in the Kentucky Derby a pipe dream, so Yankee Bravo was rested for the Preakness Stakes. But after finishing 10th of 12 in the Preakness, 18 3/4 lengths behind Big Brown, Yankee Bravo was given some time off.
"We just freshened him up," his trainer, Paddy Gallagher, said Monday morning at Del Mar. "He lost a little bit of weight."
The weight is back on, and the wait soon will be over. On Saturday at Del Mar, Yankee Bravo is scheduled to return to action in the Grade 2, $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds, Gallagher said.
The La Jolla, at 1 1/16 miles on turf, returns Yankee Bravo to the surface over which he won his first two races. He defeated maidens at Redcar in Great Britain in September, and then, in his U.S. debut for Gallagher, captured the Eddie Logan Stakes on Dec. 29 at Santa Anita.
"The one time we ran him on the grass, he was impressive," Gallagher said.
Yankee Bravo completed his serious preparation for the La Jolla on Sunday, when he worked five furlongs around the dogs on Del Mar's turf course in 1:04.20 with his regular rider, Alex Solis.
"He seems to have done well," Gallagher said. "He's put on a good bit of weight."
The La Jolla, a prep for the Grade 2, $350,000 Del Mar Derby on Aug. 31, should have a fairly large field. In addition to Yankee Bravo, those expected to enter the La Jolla are Coronel Moldes, Jungle Wave, Liberian Freighter, Moral Compass, Nownownow, Sky Cape, Tangled Tango, and Tiz West, with Madeo a possibility.
"We're considering it," said John Shirreffs, who trains Madeo.
Coronel Moldes worked five furlongs on turf Sunday in 1:02.80 for trainer John Sadler, and Liberian Freighter was timed in 1:30 for seven furlongs on turf for trainer Neil Drysdale. Nownownow, trained by Jason Orman, worked five furlongs on the main track Sunday in 59.60 seconds.
Hotwalker dead in apparent suicide
Juan Carlos Ceballos, who worked as a hotwalker for trainer Gerardo Contreras, was found dead in a stable-area tack room on Monday morning at Del Mar, an apparent suicide by hanging, according to Mac McBride, the track's director of publicity.
According to information supplied to McBride by Del Mar's security department, Ceballos, 23, was working at both Del Mar and nearby San Luis Rey Downs training center. He was found by Del Mar security official James Kemna at 10:15 on Monday morning in a room in Barn MM that he apparently had chained shut before hanging himself, McBride said.
The San Diego County Sheriffs Department and county paramedics were called to the scene, but both they and Del Mar's security department agreed the incident was not a homicide.
"It is being treated as a suicide by all parties involved," McBride said.
Azul Leon heads Best Pal probables
The unbeaten Azul Leon, who won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship in his last start July 5, heads the probable starters in the Grade 2, $150,000 Best Pal Stakes for 2-year-olds at 6 1/2 furlongs Sunday.
Azul Leon is one of two horses trainer Doug O'Neill said he will run in the race, along with S.S. Stone, who won his lone start against maidens at Hollywood on June 29.
"S.S. Stone has an allowance condition, but the allowance race I wanted for him didn't go," O'Neill said.
S.S. Stone is owned by Robert LaPenta, who has the majority of his horses on the East Coast with trainer Nick Zito. According to O'Neill, Zito helped forge a relationship between O'Neill and LaPenta two years ago after O'Neill's brother Dennis bought Cobalt Blue as a 2-year-old in training for Merv Griffin. Cobalt Blue, who went on to be a stakes winner, was being pinhooked by LaPenta after being purchased as a yearling.
In addition to O'Neill's pair, the Best Pal is expected to include Charlie's Moment, Coronet of a Baron, Fiery Rebel, Fu Peg He Rat, Kelly Leak, and Miguel's Mascot.
Zenyatta leaves no doubt in Clement Hirsch
There was only a moment of suspense in early stretch of Saturday's Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap when Zenyatta emerged between rivals and within range of race leader Model. Any doubt whether Zenyatta would wear down Model was over quickly. Model led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole and lost by a length to the best older female in the nation.
"When you see her go into gear, you know something special will happen," said Shirreffs, who trains Zenyatta.
Zenyatta won the Clement Hirsch with little urging in the final strides by jockey Mike Smith. Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta is unbeaten in seven starts. She remains on course for the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, a race formerly known as the BC Distaff, at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 and will have a prep race in the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.
The Clement Hirsch was Zenyatta's fifth consecutive stakes win and was much flashier than her half-length victory in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 5.
"I love the fact that she didn't get hot in the paddock," Shirreffs said. "She got hot before the Vanity. This time she was good."
With seven straight wins to her credit, Shirreffs expects more. Asked if he had seen her best races, he started to laugh. The indication was a hearty "No." Perhaps in the fall, Zenyatta will be sternly tested.
Late scratch, then right back to work
O'Neill thought he had an excellent chance to win Sunday's final race with If Not for You, who was making her third start and had most recently finished third against a similar field of $25,000 maiden claimers. But she acted up in the gate with jockey Corey Nakatani and was scratched, then appeared to be bleeding from an area near her eye after being pulled from the gate.
"She got cut right in front of her eye, but not in her eye," O'Neill said Monday. "We put a couple of stitches in and worked her this morning. She stood in the gate for 10 minutes, then worked from the pole."
If Not for You worked a half-mile in 49.40 seconds.
"The vet will come over to see her on Wednesday," O'Neill said. "And I would think he would okay her to run.
"Corey said there was a little commotion in the gate, like there always is, and she just lost it. We'll put some pacifier blinkers with a screen on her next time."
Believe in Hope heading to stakes
Believe in Hope is likely to make his stakes debut in the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3 after winning his career debut in a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs Saturday.
Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., Believe in Hope, a homebred colt by Thunder Gulch owned by Mace and Samantha Seigel, closed from eighth to win by a length. Believe in Hope was timed in 1:03.81.
"If we're going to win first time out, this was the right way to do it," trainer Ron Ellis said. "Jose said he took off when he asked him. You never know how he'll handle the race situation."
Asked if he considered Believe in Hope to be a Del Mar Futurity candidate, Ellis said, "He is now."
The Grade 1 Futurity is run over seven furlongs on the closing day of the meeting.
Montana Fields, who won a maiden race Sunday, is expected to run in the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante for 2-year-old fillies on Sept. 1.
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Hollendorfer and George Todaro, Montana Fields won Sunday's sixth race. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Montana Fields stalked pacesetter Red White and Brew to the final furlong and won by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:03.82 for 5 1/2 furlongs.
Montana Fields made her second start Sunday; she was third, beaten a neck, in a maiden race on July 20. Montana Fields had to draw in from the also-eligible list to gain a spot in Sunday's field.
"We were lucky to draw in," Hollendorfer said. "We want to give her a lot of time between now and the Debutante. She's still a little green. She did a little hop and skip through the lane."
* Believe in Hope's race was marred by a fatal breakdown suffered by Crazy Cash, a first-time starter. He was pulled up in the stretch with an ankle injury, according to track stewards. Crazy Cash, owned by breeder Jeff Nielsen's Everest Stable and trained by Marcelo Polanco, was racing at the back of the field when he was injured.
* Arson Squad, preparing for the Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap at seven furlongs on Aug. 24, worked five furlongs in 59 seconds Monday for trainer Bruce Headley. O'Neill said 2006 sprint champion Thor's Echo also would make his next start in that race.
* Eddie Read Handicap winner Monzante sped five furlongs for trainer Mike Mitchell in 58.20 seconds Monday, equaling the fastest time of the morning among 64 who worked that distance.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen