Bejarano returns for morning workouts

Rafael Bejarano, sidelined since opening day at Del Mar after suffering several facial fractures in a spill during the third race, worked two horses Saturday morning as he returned to action a day earlier than expected.

Bejarano, who won six consecutive Southland meets before Joel Rosario ended the string at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet, has been fitted with a special protective mask he will wear during the races. He does now wear the mask during workouts.

“I feel good and it was good to be back up on horses,” said Bejarano, who expects to begin riding in the afternoons this coming Friday.

Bejarano, who said he’ll wear the mask during live racing because there is more of a danger of being hit by debris in the afternoons, underwent surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla after the accident and remained hospitalized for several days.

* Tiago, idle since a third-place finish in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 8 at Santa Anita, will make his grass debut in Wednesday’s $85,000 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at 1 1/16 miles over Del Mar’s Jimmy Durante Turf Course..

The 5-year-old son of Pleasant Tap, who won the 2007 Santa Anita Derby, will face a field of nine, headed by Becrux, who has more than $1 million in earnings on the turf. Also entered is Wordly, who has earned $308,363 in turf races and won the 2007 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar via DQ and finished third in the Del Mar Derby that year. He’s winless in his past eight starts.

* Tres Borrachos, a 4-year-old gelded son of Ecton Park who was second to Rail Trip in the Hollywood Gold Cup, is still on track for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 6, according to trainer Beau Greely.

Greely, who saddled 11-1 long shot Borrego for a victory in the 2005 Pacific Classic, plans to work Tres Borrachos on Sunday at Santa Anita and then drill him a week from Monday at Del Mar.

Three other Pacific Classic hopefuls — Rail Trip, Mast Track and Song of Navarone — are scheduled to drill Sunday morning.

Beldame’s purse raised in hopes of luring Zenyatta, Rachel

On a day when TVG and Betfair Ltd. committed an extra $400,000 to the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 3 if both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra enter the starting gate, Rachel Alexandra co-owner Jess Jackson issued a statement of his own regarding the proposed meeting of the country’s two most popular race horses in training.

If Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra both run in the Beldame, an unlikely scenario at this point, the purse for the race would now be $1 million. The Daily Racing Form quoted Zenyatta’s trainer, John Shirreffs, as saying they would consider the race. It’s my opinion that they’ll consider it for about five seconds and then turn their thoughts back to the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 6-7, meaning Zenyatta’s next start most likely will come in the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 10.

Jackson’s statement:

“Our strategy has not changed in scheduling Rachel Alexandra’s campaign this year. We will always take it one race at a time. Right now, we are focused on her next start. I hope to have a decision on that early next week. After that race, we will need to see how she recovers and then determine her next start.

“I understand the growing excitement around a race that involves these two magnificent athletes competing but both camps need to do what is in the best interest of the horse. And for us, that means waiting until she completes and soundly recovers from her next race before any decisions are made about the Beldame Stakes or any other venue.”

I still maintain the only way these two female equine stars hook up is in a race after the Breeders’ Cup, perhaps at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

More deaths on Del Mar’s Polytrack

News item: Two more horses broke down during morning workouts over Del Mar’s main track on Thursday morning and had to be euthanized, meaning there have been nine fatalities during the first 22 days of this 37-day summer meet. A 10th broke down during a turf race earlier in the meet and was euthanized. The total number of fatalities surpasses the death totals at Del Mar from last year (eight) and 2007 (six).

Reaction: Del Mar and every race track in the state needs to take a hard look at their surfaces and strongly consider the installation of safer, gentlier tracks. Oh wait, we already went down that road, didn’t we?

Del Mar, on the heels of a terrible 2006 meet in terms of fatalities and the Barbaro tragedy in the Preakness, installed Polytrack before the 2007 season because — we were told — it would reduce deaths and injuries. We were told they were maintenance free. We were told they would attract horsemen from all over the country. We were told they would lead to larger fields. We were told they would cure world hunger … well, the synthetic proponents didn’t go that far, but you get the point.

So far, everything we have been told has turned out to be false. Correct me if I’m wrong, but has Saratoga and its dirt track been beseiged by so many fatal breakdowns during its current meet? And the state of New York didn’t just waste $40-plus million on the installation of these “safer and kinder” surfaces.

Oh yeah, and want more good news? If you’re a horse player, tread lightly next week at Del Mar. On Monday and Tuesday, the track may be power harrowed, meaning we don’t know if a parade of come-from-behind long shots will pop up or if the speed bias that has existed for much of the summer will continue to hold true.

As respected trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said on an NTRA teleconference recently: “If I knew what horses preferred (synthetics) I might quit training to become a gambler, because I never know who’s going to run well on it or how they’re going to run.”

To be fair, McLaughlin likes his horses to train on the artificial tracks, but abhors running them over synthetics. He believes the fake tracks won’t be around much longer.

“I think that before we see more synthetics tracks, we’ll see synthetics going back to dirt,” he said.

Meanwhile, Richard Shapiro, the man who led the California Horse Racing Board during the time synthetics were mandated, pleaded no contest Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of vandalizing an owner’s car with a key. Shapiro was ordered by the court to pay $6,800 in damages to Jerry Jamgotchian, a frequent critic of Shapiro and the horse racing board who obviously got under Shapiro’s skin.

Yes, Jamgotchian sometimes goes overboard in his criticism of the CHRB and the California racing industry as a whole, vilifying his targets with such rancor that his messages that are often valid most times get lost in the ugliness of his attacks. But one thing is clear — his rants against artificial tracks have been right on. They never should have been installed before being tested as training tracks first.

Some Del Mar notables

* Heading into the fifth week of its 37-day summer meet, Del Mar officials announced huge double-digit gains in both on-track attendance and handle for the first 20 days of the meet.

Average daily on-track attendance was up 11.8 percent and daily handle showed an increase of 12.8 percent heading into Wednesday’s nine-race card. Per-day attendance, 16,645 through the first four weeks last summer, stood at 18,607, with the inaugural Free and Easy Wednesday programs keying that increase. With no Monday racing at Del Mar for the first time since 1946, average on-track attendance on Wednesdays was up 42 percent and handle had shown a 30 percent increase with the lure of free general admission, programs and seats and half-price on hot dogs and drinks. The free general admission and lower concession prices were not in effect on the track’s opening day, Wednesday, July 22.

“We’e tickled with the response our fans have given us so far at the meet,” Del Mar president Joe Harper said in a statement. “We put several new things in place ahead of our opening — dropping our Mondays and shifting to five days a week, our Free & Easy Wednesdays, extra races on other cards — and the response has been excellent. Besides, we have much of our best racing to come, including a blockbuster Pacific Classic Racing Festival on Labor Day weekend, so we’re hoping to keep riding the wave all the way home.”

* Einstein, winner of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March and one of the top older male horses in training, is still listed as possible for the Pacific Classic on Sept. 6. Einstein, third in the Stephen Foster Handicap in June and fifth in the Arlington Million over a yielding turf course in his most recent start, reportedly has been training well over Arlington Park’s Polytrack surface. If Einstein does come west for the Pacific Classic, he’ll likely remain in Southern California for the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 6-7 if all goes well. Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip, the talented Colonel John, San Diego Handicap winner Informed, Eddie Read Stakes winner Global Hunter, and Awesome Gem, second in last Sunday’s Longacres Mile, are all likely Pacific Classic starters.

* Jockey Alex Solis is enjoying a strong Del Mar meet, sitting in a fourth-place tie in the jockey standings with Joe Talamo at 14 wins apiece heading into Wednesday’s card. Solis won both graded stakes last weekend, pulling into a tie for fourth on Del Mar’s list of all-time stakes winners with Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Delahoussaye at 94 wins. Laffit Pincay Jr., Solis’ idol, is third with 95 stakes victories.

Rachel-Zenyatta matchup in Beldame? Don’t count on it

Getting all excited about that possible matchup between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in a souped-up Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 3? Don’t get too revved up, because it’s unlikely to happen.

The Daily Racing Form in Tuesday’s editions reported the New York Racing Association was seeking a sponsor to help raise the Beldame’s purse from $600,000 to $1 million and was hoping to lure Rachel and Zenyatta in a race that would include between two and five more fillies and mares.

This is the problem — the Zenyatta camp is focused on the Breeders’ Cup at this point in time. Why would they travel 3,000 miles to New York and then hop back on a plane and fly another 3,000 miles back home in time for the Breeders’ Cup in five weeks when they can prep in the Lady’s Secret on Oct. 10 in their own backyard?

Trainer John Shirreffs is one of the best in the business, but he’s also one of the most conservative in the business. Zenyatta’s owner, Jerry Moss, is a smart man and he listens to and trusts Shirreffs’ judgment. If Shirreffs thinks it’s not a good idea to travel all that distance and have to put up with the detention barn and all, well, they’re not going.

“Does it work into the Breeders’ Cup schedule? That is the thing we are focusing on,” Shirreffs told the Racing Form. “We’ll have to see the calendar and how it works out. It’s something to consider.”

But only 30 minutes after Zenyatta ran her lifetime record to 12-0 with a head victory in the Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 9, Shirreffs didn’t sound like a man who was ready to jump on a plane and head to the Big Apple anytime soon when asked if the big mare would maybe travel east before the Breeders’ Cup.

“For what? What would be the purpose at this particular time, especially with the Breeders’ Cup?” Shirreffs said. “That’s what the thoroughbred industry did, they created a venue for the best horses in the country and the world now to come and race against one another.”

It’s my feeling that if these two great distaffers meet, it will be after the Breeders’ Cup, not before. The Zenyatta folks are focused on the weekend of Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita and most likely the Ladies Classic.

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Trio of Southland horses eyeing Breeders’ Cup

There figures to be a distinctive Southern California flavor to Breeders’ Cup XXVI on Nov. 6-7, and not just because the event will be held at Santa Anita for a record second consecutive year.

A trio of talented horses based in the Southland, led by the undefeated Zenyatta and also including the speedster Zensational and the come-from-behinder Magical Fantasy, figure to have a huge say in this Breeders’ Cup.

It’s beginning to look like Zenyatta’s owners and trainer value an unbeaten record over any Horse of the Year laurels, so it now appears the 5-year-old Street Cry mare will conclude her career with starts in the Lady’s Secret Stakes during the Oak Tree meet on Oct. 10 and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic on Nov. 6.

A win in the Lady’s Secret would match Personal Ensign’s 13-0 career record, and a follow-up score in the Ladies Classic would enable Zenyatta to retire with a 14-0 mark. How she would go down in history, seeing as though she would never beaten the boys like Personal Ensign and Lady’s Secret, is for historians to decide.

Jerry Moss, who owns Zenyatta along with his wife Ann, is still hopeful their reigning 2008 Eclipse Award winner for top older female can win Horse of the Year even if she doesn’t race against the boys.

“This year, in the (Vanity), she ran with 129 pounds and beat older people,” Moss said.
“Last year, we beat Ginger Punch at Oaklawn, we faced her in the Breeders’ Cup. Now this is a formidable filly, there’s no doubt about it, and we beat her twice. And yet (Ginger Punch) got two votes for the older filly of the year. So I can’t say what writers will do. They’ll make their own choices based on their own feelings in their own time. I’m not going to tell anybody how to vote, I couldn’t do that.

“Last year, Curlin supposedly got special consideration because he came back as a champion to continue running for another year and allow the public a chance to see him, and I applaud that decision. And that’s what we’re doing this year — we’re coming back from a championship, so I think we would get some reasonable consideration for doing that when it came to Horse of the Year honors.

“We happen to live in California so that’s what we build around, and we do plan a lot around where the Breeders’ Cup is. If the Breeders’ Cup were in New York or Churchill Downs, we’d be all over the country. But that’s not the case.”

Of course, Zensational has been sensational so far. He just sped gate to wire to win the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 8 and is being pointed toward the Pat O’Brien Stakes at the seaside oval on Sept. 6. The Ancient Title at Santa Anita on Oct. 11 could follow, or perhaps trainer Bob Baffert, fresh off induction into racing’s Hall of Fame, might elect to run just once more before the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Remember, Baffert is the guy who, mainly because of health issues, ran Midnight Lute just once before last year’s Breeders’ Cup, where the talented son of Real Quiet, said by Baffert to be the best horse he ever trained, became the first back-to-back winner of the Sprint.

Magical Fantasy, winner of Sunday’s Grade 1 John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar, earned an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf by winning the $350,000 race and trainer Patrick Gallagher said the 4-year-old filly will be pointed toward the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita on Oct. 10 and the Breeders’ Cup if she remains healthy.

Pacific Classic hopefuls drill at Del Mar

Three horses with Pacific Classic aspirations — Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip, 2008 Gold Cup winner Mast Track and Song of Navarone — all worked Sunday morning at Del Mar in preparation for the Grade 1 race on Sept. 6.

Rail Trip drilled six furlongs on Polytrack in 1:14.40, and trainer Ron Ellis was pleased with the work under exercise rider Jose Dominguez.

“He was just cruising out there,” Ellis said. “He’ll have two more works, probably seven furlongs or a mile next time.”

Mast Track worked a half-mile in 50.20 seconds, prompting longtime Bobby Frankel assistant Humberto Ascanio to say, “He went really good. We wanted him to go easy in this first workout since he ran (second, beaten a nose in the San Diego Handicap) and that’s what he did.” Dominguez was also in the saddle for Mast Track’s work.

Meanwhile, Song of Navarone drilled five furlongs in 1:00.80 for trainer Walther Solis under David Flores, subbing for regular rider Joel Rosario.

“He worked really good,” Solis said. “He went nice and easy, just the way we wanted it. It was his first work back from his race (third in the San Diego).”

This will be the 19th running of the $1 million Pacific Classic, won in its inaugural year (1991) by the popular Cal-bred Best Pal. It’s run at a mile and one quarter over the track’s Polytrack surface.

Some horses to consider in Del Mar pick six

Here are a few horses entered today at Del Mar that you might want to take a look at in exotics, pick sixes and pick fours:

5th — EPIC POWER is a tough old sonofagun who gets the services of Garrett Gomez, who’s beginning to gather some steam after a slow start at the meet. CARMAN is a live long shot who should be closing in the stretch.

7th — Joel Rosario stays aboard SPIRIT OF COCHISE for trainer Jack Carava. The 4-year-old gelding has enough tactical speed where he won’t be coming from the clouds, which has been a bad formula on this track lately.

9th — I love the jock switch on CAMISADO, a 6-year-old gelding who won for this price at Santa Anita on April 17. Rosario climbs aboard this guy, who has won six of 18 on synthetics.

10th — INCA’S FLIGHT is my best bet of the day. The 3-year-old Fusaichi Pegasus filly, trained by Craig Dollase, stretches out to a mile on the turf after a six-furlong grass sprint at Hollywood Park on July 12 in his second career start. Corey Nakatani stays aboard, and he should be forwardly placed in the nightcap.

Good luck today!

Bejarano ready to return by end of the month

Rafael Bejarano, who won a record-tying six consecutive riding titles when he moved to the Southland at the tailend of 2007, hopes to make his return Friday, Aug. 28 at Del Mar after missing most of the meet following an opening-day spill.

Bejarano, the defending Del Mar riding champion who suffred major facial fractures in the spill when his mount, the 8-year-old gelding Mi Rey, broke down at the top of the stretch, will wear a protective mask when he returns, according to agent Joe Ferrer. Mi Rey had to be euthanized because of a compound fracture of the right front fetlock.

“He can’t wait to get back to riding,” Ferrer said. “He’s looking forward to his return.”

Bejarano, who had his string of riding titles snapped by Joel Rosario during the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet, will wear the protective mask for quite a while when he returns.

Bejarano and Chris McCarron are the only jockeys to win six consecutive SoCal riding titles since the Hollywood Park autumn meet began in 1981.

Headley has another runner in his barn

Bruce Headley, who’s trained a top-flight sprinter or two in his day, might have the next good thing in his barn after M One Rifle went gate to wire to win the $100,000 Real Good Deal Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths at Del Mar on Friday.

M One Rifle, a 3-year-old gelding by One Man Army, set fractions of 22.72 and 45.64 en route to a final clocking of 1:22.32 in the seven-furlong event for California-breds that drew a field of nine. It was M One Rifle’s second win in three starts. He went gate to wire to win a special maiden allowance at Hollywood Park by 4 1/4 lengths on July 5 after finishing third in his debut at Hollywood on April 25.

Headley, who won the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint when Kona Gold ran a sizzling 1:07 3/5 at Churchill Downs, says M One Rifle most likely will appear next in the Cal Cup Sprint on Oct. 3 during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

“When I get them in one gear, I like to keep them there,” Headley said.

Jockey Mike Smith was impressed.

“He’s quick out of there,” he said. “He gets his feet underneath himself real quick and can really go, but he’s relaxed when he’s doing it. He’s just naturally fast. Coming away from there I got a flyer, so I just went on with him. That other speed horse (Royal Punisher) was outside, so I had to go. But he was going easy. Turning for home, he ducked in on me. He wants to do that and it helps him change leads, so I’m OK with some of it. He wants to stay on his left (lead), but that duck gets him over to his right. But he’s going to have to learn how to do that himself. He can’t be doing that all the time.”