Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has reached several milestones during an illustrious career, and he stands in a strong position to reach another Sunday when he sends out a powerful one-two punch of Precious Kitten and Visit in quest of a fifth straight victory in the $500,0000 Matriarch at Hollywood Park.
The Grade I test is for fillies and mares at one mile on turf and is co-featured with the $500,000 Hollywood Derby. The Sunday races climax the three-day Turf Festival, which begins Friday with the $400,000 Citation Handicap and $100,000-added Miesque Stakes.
“I don’t keep track of those kind of records, but I think it would be great,” said Frankel of his thoughts on hitting a Fab Five.
Frankel appears in the driver’s seat with defending champion Precious Kitten and newcomer Visit, who was turned over to him by Juddmonte Farm after finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita.
“Both horses seem fine,” said Frankel, categorizing Precious Kitten in the elite list of top female grass horses he has trained. The 5-year-old mare aims to become the first horse to repeat in The Matriarch since champion Flawlessly won three in a row from 1991-93.
With earnings of more than $1.8 million, Precious Kitten will be making the final start of her career under Rafael Bejarano, who rode her to victory last year. Precious Kitten began her career under Dale Romans but has made her last 15 starts for Frankel since being transferred to him in the autumn of 2006. Owner-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey sold her to Lael Stable at the beginning of the year.
“I think the shorter distance will help Visit,” said Frankel of the 3-year-old filly, who took the lead in the stretch of the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup race, only to be overtaken by three other horses. She ran well in two races at one mile in England before shipping for the Breeders’ Cup.
Frankel has won The Matriarch a record eight times since 1996.
Frankel, who ranks second in Hollywood Derby victories with three, seeks to equal Charlie Whittingham’s record of four with English invader Midships in the 1 ¼-mile grass test.
Midships, a son of Mizzen Mast, has worked at Santa Anita four times since joining the Frankel stable following a second-place finish in a handicap at Newmarket Oct. 3. He has run the ten-furlong Derby distance six times, with one first, three seconds and one third.
Frankel, the runaway leader with 17 Turf Festival wins, also entered Proudinsky in Friday’s $400,000 Citation Handicap and Joe Bravo in Saturday’s $150,000 Turf Express Handicap.
METTEE SEEKS GODOLPHIN DOUBLE
Rick Mettee, who worked on this circuit for more than two decades before joining Godolphin Stable in 2003, provides plenty of experience in winning the Citation Handicap and Matriarch, races in which Godolphin has entrants this weekend.
Mettee, who assists trainer Saeed bin Suroor, has high hopes for Formal Decree in the $400,000 Citation Handicap Friday and Cocoa Beach in the $500,000 Matriarch Sunday. Henry Spiller, another assistant, has trained the pair here for the past month.
Mettee, who began here in 1981 and assisted John Gosden before going on his own, saddled 1989 Citation winner Fair Judgment and was here in 2006 when Godolphin won with Ashkal Way. He also saw Gosden win The Matriarch with Royal Heroine in 1984 and Asteroid Field in 1987.
“Fair Judgment had just run in the D.C. International and didn’t handle the yielding turf,” recalled Mettee of one of his first major wins. “He came back and won on a firm course with Eddie D (Delahoussaye). The Citation was a Grade II then.
“Formal Decree just won at Belmont on soft turf,” added Mettee, not expecting mid-week rains that soaked the course to hamper him. Mettee hopes the turf will dry by Sunday.
“I would prefer Cocoa Beach to run on firm turf because this will be the first time she will run on turf since she was two,” he said. “She breezed so well on it here last week. If she gets a hold of it, a mile should be no problem.”
Cocoa Beach, a stakes winner on three continents, finished second to Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic in her last start. Her last five outings have been at 1 1/8 miles, but she won at one mile in her only try at that distance in Dubai in 2006.
“She broke her maiden at five furlongs,” said Mettee of the 4-year-old Chilean-bred filly. “She’s inherently a fast filly.
“Saeed said this was the last chance to run her in a Grade I in the U.S., and her showing on turf will give us some ideas of options with her next year,” explained Mettee. “She and (stablemate) Music Note will go to Kentucky for the winter and stay in training for next year, and we would like to split them up.”
Mettee, who winters in Dubai for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin operation, said Formal Decree and Cocoa Beach will be the final two Godolphin starters in the U.S. this year.
CALIFORNIA FLAG READY FOR TURF EXPRESS
Front-running California Flag, who won the Grade III Morvich Handicap before fading to tenth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on 25, will try to carry his speed all the way in the $150,000 Hollywood Turf Express Handicap at six furlongs Saturday.
“It’s a little quick coming back, but he’s doing well,” said trainer Brian Koriner. “I guess One Union and Delta Storm are the ones I’ve got to worry about.”
The California-bred gelding has won four of nine start since joining the Koriner barn. “He always had ability but had some ailments that bothered him,” said Koriner.
ALBAHRI CLEARS QUARANTINE
French import Albahri, a supplementary entry to the $500,000 Hollywood Derby, was scheduled to join the Patrick Biancone stable at Santa Anita Thursday after clearing quarantine.
“He clears quarantine today at 1 p.m.,” said Biancone. “He arrived Tuesday afternoon after a flight from Amsterdam. The report on his trip is good. He’s eating well in quarantine, I’m told. He’ll stretch his legs a little here tomorrow morning. He trained in France and is a fit horse. He just won a short time ago.”
Albahri won for the third time in five starts Nov. 3 before being purchased at a sale by Ed Gann of San Diego.