Winner Well Armed and runner-up Surf Cat are on their way to Del Mar's signature event, the Grade I, $1-million Pacific Classic Sunday, August 24, following solid showings in Saturday's Grade II San Diego Handicap.
The winner had not run since finishing third in the Dubai World Cup March 29 but the long layoff obviously didn't create a problem for the front-running 5-year-old son of double Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow. He won in gate-to-wire fashion under perfect handling by Aaron Gryder, who has ridden the horse in all six of his starts in the United States after two seasons in the United Arab Emirates.
Trainer Bruce Headley is looking forward to another crack at Well Armed with his veteran Surf Cat, whose San Diego was his 12th straight graded stakes event since January of 2006. During that span, he finished worse than third only once while posting five wins, four seconds and two thirds.
"Next time we'll be at equal weights," said the longtime trainer of the 6-year-old son of Sir Cat, who carried high weight of 120 pounds. "We won't have to give him three pounds." Headley hailed Surf Cat for his determined closing kick in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego before losing by 1 1/4 lengths.
Also possible for the Pacific Classic from the San Diego are third-place finisher Mostacolli Mort and Mr Napper Tandy, who finished a surprising fourth for trainer Jack Carava, though the trainer would only say there could be a "small chance" of his running. At the same time, he said the 4-year-old colt has shown an affinity for the Del Mar main track.
EARLY RETURNS SHOW SIX ALREADY COMMITTED TO WICKERR
A couple of returnees from last year's Wickerr Handicap are already among the half-dozen horses committed to this year's edition to be run Friday at one mile on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course.
Lang Field, who was third, and Porto Santo, who finished fourth, are set to make another go of it. Nominated but not yet committed to the race by trainer Neil Drysdale is 2007 winner Becrux.
Also set to run are Richard Mandella trainees One Union and Sartorial, Southern Africa from the Craig Lewis barn and Worldly, trained by Ben Cecil.
Heading a "possible" list are 2007 Pacific Classic runner-up Awesome Gem, trained by Craig Dollase; American Imperium, trained by Gary Mandella; Darrell Vienna's Cheroot, John Sadler's Wood Be Willing, Bill Currin's Freesgood and the Robert Frankel pair of Hello Sunday and Tybalt.
VETERAN TRAINER JUAN GARCIA TURNS OVER STABLE TO SON
Juan Garcia, once tagged with the moniker, "King of Caliente," is retiring from training and turning over his stable to his son, Victor. Monday marks the final day that Garcia trainees will carry the father's name as trainer.
Beginning Wednesday, it will be Victor on the trainer's roster. He'll take over a stable numbering 25 horses.
Juan Garcia, 65, will take on the responsibilities of businesses he operates in Tijuana. He won't disappear entirely from the horse scene, one in which he has participated since age 6, he says. He plans to be a frequent visitor to the Del Mar barn area.
This marks his second retirement from the sport, but this one appears to be more permanent. He retired the first time in 1992 but returned to racing in 1996 when he claimed Native Desert, a horse that put him back on the racing landscape.
"I thought I would just start a small stable and have fun," Garcia said this morning. "But it started getting big right away. I usually have 25 to 30 horses."
Victor Garcia is no stranger to the business, although he had left for some years prior to returning four years ago to serve as his father's assistant. He trained on his own in the late 1980s, saddling the 2-year-old filly Approved to Fly to a fourth-place finish in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs.
"Victor knows the business," his father said. "I'm very comfortable with turning the stable over to him."
TIES HIGHLIGHT EARLY DAYS OF JOCKEY, TRAINER STANDINGS
Deadlocks reign in the jockey and trainer standings after four racing days in Del Mar's 43-day meeting.
Rafael Bejarano, in search of his third straight riding since coming to Southern California for Santa Anita's winter-spring meet, and Tyler Baze, fourth behind Bejarano at Hollywood Park, head the early standings with six wins each.
Victor Espinoza and Joel Rosario are tied for third in the standings with four victories each, and a triple-win day Saturday for Aaron Gryder puts him fifth.
Among the trainers, Mike Mitchell and Peter Miller sit atop the standings with three wins each, followed by seven trainers with two wins each. Two of those conditioners -- John Sadler and Eoin Harty -- got their wins Saturday. The biggest victory of the day went to Harty, whose Well Armed won the Grade II, $300,000 San Diego Handicap.
SHORE LINES -- Michael Baze makes his return to the saddle Monday in the day's third race aboard Warren's Gold, a $32,000 claiming filly going a mile on the main track. That is his only scheduled ride of the day ... The owner team of Gary and Cecil Barber scored a hat trick Saturday by winning the first two races and then dead-heating for first in the 10th race. Their first winner, Wild and Ready, is trained by Peter Miller, and Super Strut, winner of the second race, and Dumaani's Gold in the 10th are trained by John Sadler. The brothers lost Super Strut on a $25,000 claim, but they claimed Missoula, who finished fourth, out of the seventh race for $40,000 ... There were two winning Pick Six tickets Saturday, each paying $356,909.60. One ticket cost $12 on the TVG system and the other was an $8 wager in Las Vegas that became a winner when the horse originally chosen in the 10th and final race was scratched and the bettor automatically got the favorite, Dumaani's Gold, who dead-heated for the win with Improvising Gal.