Trainer Henry Dominguez, who shipped Song of Navarone from Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico to Hollywood Park Sunday for the $250,000 Californian Saturday, cautioned not to take the 5-year-old horse too lightly.
“Horses from New Mexico are doing well all over the country so we thought we would give it a try,” said Dominguez in reference to Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby after training and racing in New Mexico. “I don’t know if lightning strikes twice, but I thought we would try it.”
Song of Navarone, a son of 1992 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Sultry Song, has won eight of 12 starts and earned $667,186 for George Coleman of Farmington, N.M.
Song of Navarone won four straight stakes in New Mexico last winter before finishing a closing third in the Lone Star Park Handicap on May 25.
“The horse has been doing well and did well at Lone Star last time in a Grade III so we thought this would be a good spot for him,” said Dominguez of the Grade II Californian at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track.
“He ran a remarkable race last time and got a 106 Beyer figure,” said Dominguez. “He was wide and encountered trouble on the first turn, dropped back and lost position, had to go wide again and was still finishing.”
Dominguez expects Song of Navarone, who drew post six in a field of 12, to again come from off the pace. “There appears to be plenty of speed in the race,” said Dominguez. “He should be comfortable laying four or five lengths off the leaders.”
Song of Navarone will be reunited with jockey Victor Espinoza, who guided him to victory in the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in March, 2007.
“He was out for 17 months after that race,” said Dominguez. “We took him to West Virginia for the West Virginia Derby and he came down with salmonella poisoning, very unusual for a horse.” He returned to the races last October and has won five of his last seven starts.
Song of Navarone will make his second start in California. He shipped to Santa Anita in 2007 and finished third in the Sham Stakes, the last horse Dominguez started in California.
Dominguez, brother of trainer Caesar Dominguez, has been in New Mexico the past 10 years after a 10-year stint with quarter horses and thoroughbreds in Southern California. His last starter at Hollywood Park was Speedy Falcon, third-place finisher in the 2004 Railbird Stakes.
One of the horses Dominguez expects to show speed is Rail Trip, who has won five of six starts and seeks to atone for his lone defeat, a second-place finish behind Ball Four in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap when he stalked the winner in second.
Trainer Ron Ellis promised that Rail Trip would not play the waiting game again in The Californian. “We’re not going to let Ball Four go,” said Ellis. “With the inside post (3), we’re going to let Rail Trip break out of there.
“He may be better as a free-running horse,” added Ellis. “He won going wire to wire at 6 and 6 ½ furlongs. We’re going to try and let him use that speed.”
The Californian will also see the return of Mast Track, upset winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup last year. The 5-year-old horse is winless in five starts since that race, including a seventh-place finish by 15 lengths in the Charles Town Classic in West Virginia in his last start in April.
Mast Track has been in training with Bobby Frankel at Belmont Park since the Charles Town race. “He was flown in last night and went to Santa Anita,” said assistant Matthew Ascanio. “He looks good. He’s been freshened.”
Kelly Leak, Mythical Power and Scorewithcater, who finished 1-2-3 respectively in the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico in March in front of eventual Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird — who finished fourth — are scheduled for a rematch in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap. The Grade III test for 3-year-olds will be run at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track on June 20.
Mythical Power went on to a 7 ½-length victory in the Lone Star Derby on May 9 under Victor Espinoza, who has the call back for trainer Bob Baffert. Mike Smith will return on Kelly Leak for trainer Mike Machowsky. Joseph Talamo will ride Scorewithcater for conditioner Doug O’Neill.
Unbeaten Elusive Bluff, winner of the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes on the Belmont Park turf in October, is scheduled to make his 2009 bow in the $100,000 Cinema Handicap, a Grade III test for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf June 21.
Elusive Bluff, a son of Elusive Quality owned by Southern Equine Stable, will be ridden by Michael Baze for trainer Eric Guillot.
Other probable starters include Arden Park (Rafael Bejarano), Flashmans Papers (Brice Blanc) and Oil Man (Joel Rosario).
Unbeaten female champion Zenyatta, who scored her 10th straight victory in the Milady Handicap on May 23, will return to defend honors in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap June 27, trainer John Shirreffs confirmed Thursday.
Zenyatta had the closest call of her career in the Vanity last year, winning the Grade I test at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track by a half-length.
Life Is Sweet, who finished second to Zenyatta in the Milady, worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.80 for Shirreffs. He said no plans had been finalized for her next start.
Defending champion Get Funky worked five furlongs on Cushion Track in 59.60 seconds for trainer John Sadler for the $70,000-added Robert Kerlan Memorial Handicap at six furlongs on turf next Thursday.
Delta Storm, another Kerlan probable, worked the same distance in 1:00.40. Other probable starters include Candy Pull, Hewitts and Sky Cape.
Cherokee Heaven, another nominee and possible entrant, worked five furlongs on turf in 1:05.80 breezing.
Champion Indian Blessing, who stormed the desert to finish second in the Golden Shaheen Stakes in Dubai in her last start in March, will return in the $70,000-added Desert Stormer Handicap under high weight of 124 pounds Sunday.
The 4-year-old filly drew post seven in a field of eight in the six-furlong race for fillies and mares on Cushion Track. Victor Espinoza has the call for trainer Bob Baffert.
The 124-pound assignment would be the most carried by a Desert Stormer winner. Winners A.P. Assay in 1999 and Go Go in 2001 each carried 122.
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