ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2014)–Recent Eclipse Award finalists, and two of America’s top sprinters, Jerry Hollendorfer’s Sahara Sky and Bob Baffert’s Secret Circle, head a field of five older horses in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 Palos Verdes Stakes at six furlongs.
A winner last year of both the Palos Verdes and Grade II, seven furlong San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita, Sahara Sky has been idle since winning the prestigious Grade I Metropolitan Mile Handicap on May 27 at Belmont Park–a race in which he earned a career-best 110 Beyer Speed figure.
Although he has been on the shelf for eight months, Sahara Sky, a dedicated deep closer who has run well fresh in the past, will hope to be rolling late under Corey Nakatani, who is a perfect two for two aboard the 6-year-old horse by Pleasant Tap.
Ridden by Eastern-based Joel Rosario in his last two starts, Sahara Sky was an unlucky loser of the Grade I, seven furlong Carter Handicap two starts back on April 6, 2013 at Aqueduct.
Owned by Hollendorfer and Kim Lloyd, Florida-bred Sahara Sky had three wins and a second from four starts last year and is 16-7-3-4 overall, with earnings of $886,680.
Originally slated to return to action this past summer at Del Mar, Sahara Sky was in steady training this past fall at Hollywood Park and has six local moves in preparation for the Palos Verdes–his most recent a six furlong spin in 1:13.60 on Jan. 26.
In addition to Sahara Sky, Hollendorfer will send out a pair of sharp sprinters who will get tested for class in their first graded stakes engagement–Wild Dude, who drew the rail with Rafael Bejarano and Moonshine Bay, who will break from the outside with Gary Stevens.
Second in the 2012 Arkansas Derby, Baffert’s Secret Circle came back to the races running on Oct. 14 of last year, winning a classified allowance at Santa Anita going six furlongs, which set him up for a career moment in winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint by a neck on Nov. 2.
Lightly raced, Secret Circle, a 5-year-old horse by Eddington, is undefeated in four starts going six furlongs and he’s been popular at the windows as well, as he’s been favored in eight of his nine career starts.
Blessed with an abundance of natural speed, Secret Circle can go to the front in the Palos Verdes or sit close with Martin Garcia, who was aboard for his last two wins.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Secret Circle has seven wins and two seconds, good for earnings of $1,878,790.
Fourth, beaten 1 ½ lengths by Secret Circle in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Majestic Stride came back to win the Grade III, six furlong Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28 as the 3-5 favorite, and all four of his career wins have come at six furlongs.
Trained by Jeff Bonde and owned by Edmund Brown, Jr., Alan Klein and Phillip Lebherz, the 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding by Trippi pressed the pace in the Underwood and figures to do the same on Saturday. With earnings of $243,600, the Palos Verdes will be his eighth career start.
The complete field for the Palos Verdes Stakes, to be run as the fourth race on an eight-race card Sunday, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Wild Dude, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Sahara Sky, Corey Nakatani, 120; Majestic Stride, Edwin Maldonado, 118; Secret Circle, Martin Garcia, 123, and Moonshine Bay, Gary Stevens, 118.