Thursday, October 01, 2009

Nite Lede, Wednesday, September 30th,2009

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) _ California Flag won the $100,000 Morvich Handicap for the second year in a row Wednesday, as 17,239 attended on the opening day of Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

The 5-year-old gray gelding earned an automatic spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in early November at the track. It'll be a chance to make up for last year, when California Flag finished 10th in the race after a quick pace wore him out.

With Joe Talamo aboard, California Flag maintained his usual front-running style in the Morvich, covering 6½ furlongs on the hillside turf course in a course record 1:11.40 to win by a length.

``He's by far the fastest horse I've ever ridden,'' said Talamo, who appeared on the ``Tonight Show'' earlier this week. ``He's so much more relaxed this year. I love the way he comes up to the Breeders' Cup this year _ this was only his second start since last November and he's a much better horse than he was last year.''

California Flag raced all the way up to last year's Breeders' Cup, so trainer Brian Koriner took a different approach this time.

``He was really nice and relaxed today,'' he said. ``Hopefully the Breeders' Cup will be a little slower than it was last year. He's doing way better this year. He's really fresher, so I think he'll do the job.''

California Flag paid $5.20, $3.40 and $2.80 as the 8-5 wagering favorite. Get Funky was runner-up for the second straight year and returned $8.40 and $5, while Bruce's Dream was another 1¾ lengths back in third and paid $4.40 to show.

John Sadler trains Get Funky, one of several Breeders' Cup prospects in the veteran's barn. He said Get Funky would be pointed toward the BC Turf Sprint.

Desert Code, the defending BC Turf Sprint winner, finished seventh in his return from a five-month layoff after his form faltered. He came in 5 for 8 on the turf course, but was sixth most of the way under Richard Migliore.

``He made a little run, then he kind of leveled off,'' Migliore said. ``No amount of work can do what a race can do. I really think the race will make him come on. I think he will be up to the challenge of trying to defend his title in the Breeders' Cup.''

The next two weeks at Santa Anita will be a critical time, with eight graded stakes remaining for horses to earn their way into the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6-7. Racing's two richest days return to the track and its synthetic surface for the second consecutive year.

Already on the grounds is Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, set to run in the Goodwood Stakes on Oct. 10 as a prep for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Undefeated Zenyatta will prep for either the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic or the Classic against the boys by running in the Lady's Secret on Oct. 10.

The 31-day Oak Tree meeting began on a picture perfect fall day that attracted 17,239 fans, a slight uptick from last year's opening day. On-track wagering totaled $1,884,513.

But the faltering economy has already dealt a blow, with purses for claiming, maiden and allowance races reduced by 10 percent to 12 percent from a year ago.

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