Trainer Doug O’Neill is following an unusual pattern in clinching his fourth title with record numbers at the Hollywood Park Autumn Meet, which concludes Sunday.
O’Neill has won the title during even years — previously in 2002, 2004 and 2006 —while adding three titles during the longer Spring/Summer Meet during odd years — 2003, 2005 and 2007, the latter a tie.
O’Neill, 40, leads Sadler, 27-19, with three days remaining at the meet. O’Neill has horses entered for 13 remaining races while Sadler has eight. O’Neill has established an Autumn Meet mark, bettering the record of 24 he set in 2006 during a 36-day session.
“This one is something special,” O’Neill said Friday. “We started the meet kind of slow. And a few weeks ago, we still weren’t surging. But the last few weeks we have been on a good run. We’ve got a great team here.”
O’Neill saddled only six winners through the first 17 days of the 40-day meet but has sent out 21 during the last 20 — including nine during the last seven — to take charge. O’Neill trailed Sadler, 15-10, at the 20-day halfway mark but drew even, 19-19, on Dec. 10 and took the lead with another winner Dec. 11.
O’ Neill would love to climax the meet with a victory Saturday in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity, in which he has entered graded stakes winner Azul Leon, one of the favorites, and maiden Mark S the Cooler.
O’Neill can envision one of the pair flying late in the stretch and winning it all, symbolic of his latest title — his 21st in Southern California since 2002.
PLETCHER DUO READY FOR SWITCH TO SYNTHETIC
Bittel Road and Hype, who have made all their starts on turf for trainer Todd Pletcher, are primed for their first outings on a synthetic surface when they enter the starting gate in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park on Saturday.
“Both are obviously very useful on the turf,” assistant Michael McCarthy said Friday from Santa Anita, where the pair have been training for the past seven weeks.
“The (Cushion Track) is something of an X factor,” added McCarthy. “They have trained exceptionally well at Santa Anita (on Pro Ride, another synthetic). I hope it translates
at Hollywood Park. We will find out Saturday.”
Both will ship across town Saturday morning. Hype drew post 3 under Alex Solis, Bittel Road 10 under Mike Smith in a field of 12 in the Grade I test at 1 1/16 miles.
Bittel Road has recorded three firsts and one second in five starts over five different courses and has earned $224,640 — the most in the lineup — for owner-breeder John Iracane and partner James Scatuorchio.
Bittel Road, a Kentucky-bred son of Stormy Atlantic, broke his maiden at Belmont and won stakes at Saratoga and Keeneland before fading to eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
“Bittel Road got rattled in the paddock on Breeders’ Cup Day and left his race there,” explained McCarthy. “He ran closer to the pace than we would have liked. Throw out his Breeders’ Cup race, and his record is exemplary.”
Bittel Road and Hype finished second and third, respectively, in their
last starts in the Generous Stakes here Nov. 29. “Hype was unlucky not to have broken his maiden before he came to California,” said McCarthy in reference to a pair of tough-trip maiden outings at Saratoga and Belmont before a score here Oct. 31. Hype is owned by Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stable and Ed Lawrence.
“Both horses fit with these on their best days,” said McCarthy.
FRANKEL SEEKS EIGHTH DAHLIA WIN
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who has won the Dahlia Handicap a record seven times, seeks number eight Sunday when he sends out Valbenny in the $150,000, Grade II test, closing-day feature for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
Valbenny, a 4-year-old Irish-bred filly to be ridden by Alex Solis, will be making for her third start for Frankel since being transferred to him by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables.
Valbenny, a stretch-running daughter of Val Royal, was a fast-closing fourth in her last start in the Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 24. She began her career as a 2-year-old in England for Alan Swinbank before being sold to California interests and transferred to the Paddy Gallagher stable.
Valbenny enjoyed great success with Gallagher with four victories in eight starts. She was particularly fond of the Hollywood Park turf, winning the Grade III Miesque and Senorita Stakes and Grade II Honeymoon Handicap and finishing second in the Grade I American Oaks in four starts here.
Frankel won his seventh Dahlia last year with prohibitive favorite Citronnade. He won previously with Lina Cavalieri in 1984, Aberuschka in 1986, Skimble in 1994, Didina in 1995, Sixieme Sens in 1996 and Surya in 2002.
Jockey Corey Nakatani, who rides French import Belle Allure in the Dahlia, seeks to spring an upset and post a record fourth victory in the race. He is tied with retired Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Eddie Delahoussaye at three. Nakatani won aboard Re Toss in 1991, Sixieme Sens and Tuzla in 1998.
FINISH LINES — Savu, a 2-year-old colt scheduled to make his debut in the sixth race Sunday for trainer Neil Drysdale, is by Storm Cat out of Fiji, Eclipse Award-winning female grass horse for Drysdale in 1998. The Pennsylvania-bred colt, bred and co-owned by Brushwood Stable, has recorded a dozen works here for his bow. Michael Baze has the call in the maiden special weight race at 1 1/16 miles on turf.