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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• DAYTONA STAKES: FORERUNNER TO BREEDERS’ CUP?
• ROUTE-TESTED LONGVIEW DRIVE SET FOR SHAM STAKES
• SADLER HOPES JAVA MAN IS HORSE FOR COURSE IN SAN PASQUAL
• SANTA ANITA-BASED ACCLAMATION UP FOR ECLIPSE AWARDS
ELLIS SEES ‘GRUFF’ SAILING IN GRADE III DAYTONA ON SUNDAY
Any human being with a back problem can empathize with Mr Gruff’s long periods of inactivity. A bum back is the reason that at the ripe old age of eight, the Kentucky-bred gelding has raced only 11 times, twice in 2008, four times in 2009, three times in 2010 and only twice last year, those two races coming eight months apart.
But the son of Mr. Greeley owned by Gary Broad and trained by Ron Ellis has made the most of those infrequent opportunities, winning six times, with two seconds, one third and earnings of $298,110, most of it gleaned from victories on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course at about 6 ½ furlongs, where Mr Gruff runs again Sunday in the Grade III, $100,000 Daytona Stakes.
In six starts over the course, Mr Gruff has five wins and one second, losing by a nose on that occasion. In his most recent start, on Nov. 18, he won at six furlongs on Hollywood Park’s turf course. It was his first start since a dismal 16th-place finish in the Al Quoz Sprint over Meydan’s five furlong turf course in Dubai on March 26 last year.
“He had a long break most recently not because of his back, but because we wanted to give him time off from the trip to Dubai,” Ellis said. “He ran so poorly there, we just gave him time off after that, but he’s doing good now. The only thing I can come up with (about the poor performance in Dubai) is that the turf was too soft.”
Mr Gruff will have to be at his best in the Daytona, facing such as Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready and Caracortado, an eight-time winner from 18 starts. Caracortado was fifth behind Regally Ready in his most recent, and gets a new pilot in Rafael Bejarano.
“Mr Gruff likes running down the hill,” Ellis said, “but he pretty much runs well everywhere. He ran well on the flat at Hollywood (third, beaten just over a length in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile on turf). He just runs more down the hill. Turf sprinting is definitely his game.”
Long-range plans call for Mr Gruff to run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Nov. 3. As for the Daytona, on paper, Regally Ready shows speed that could compromise Mr Gruff’s front-running style, but Ellis is not overly concerned.
“Mr Gruff has plenty of natural speed,” Ellis said. “The last time he kind of took off with (Joel) Rosario, but normally he can be rated. I think he was just very fresh last time, but he can sit right there or go to the lead.
“He can rate a little bit if he has to. We’ll kind of leave it up to Joel as to what he wants to do with him, but the Daytona will be a good test. I don’t think the top players will be much tougher come Breeders’ Cup time.”
The field for the Daytona, race eight on a nine-race card: Calimonco, Mike Smith; Mr Gruff, Joel Rosario; Victory Pete, Martin Garcia; Caracortado, Rafael Bejarano; Silver Summation, Garrett Gomez; Regally Ready, Corey Nakatani; and Al Instante, Kevin Krigger.
‘TOUGH RACE’ FOR LONGVIEW DRIVE IN SHAM
Longview Drive gets tested for class in Saturday’s Sham Stakes, in which he’ll take on unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Secret Circle and highly-regarded maiden winner Hierro, who won “as rider pleased” at Churchill Downs on Nov. 9.
“He’s coming into this race real good,” Jerry Hollendorfer said of the chestnut son of Pulpit owned by Steve Beneto of Sacramento.
Asked if it was beneficial to have two races going two turns already under his belt, the Hall of Fame trainer said, “We’ll find out, but it looks like a tough race to me. It looks like there’s some speed in there, so we’ll see. I think anybody that’s running would have to lay a little bit close (to win).”
Longview Drive’s three wins have come at minor tracks: Pleasanton, Santa Rosa and Fresno.
Longview Drive will wear blinkers in a race for the first time in the Sham. “We think he worked better in blinkers,” Hollendorfer said, “so that’s why we put them on. We’re not putting on semis, we’re just putting some little French cups on him.”
The field for the Sham, the third of nine races: Senor Rain, Joe Talamo, 20-1; Out of Bounds, Garrett Gomez, 5-1; Hierro, Julien Leparoux, 3-1; Secret Circle, Rafael Bejarano, 4-5; Longview Drive, Joel Rosario, 8-1; and Handsome Mike, Corey Nakatani, 5-1.
Each is assigned 118 pounds.
RETURN TO DIRT SHOULD HELP JAVA MAN IN SAN PASQUAL
John Sadler expects an improved performance from Java Man in Saturday’s San Pasqual Stakes now that the 6-year-old gelding is back on a surface he favors.
“He runs better on dirt,” the trainer said of the 6-year-old Pennsylvania-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro. “He didn’t run at all when we ran him last time at Hollywood (fifth of six, beaten 15 ¼ lengths on Cushion Track). We had a nice win here at Oak Tree (on dirt at one mile Oct. 7) and we think it’s his preferred surface.”
Java Man will be making his stakes debut in the Grade II San Pasqual, a mile and a sixteenth race with a $150,000 purse. It is the first local steppingstone to the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 3.
The field for the San Pasqual, which goes as race eight: Skipshot, Joe Talamo, 12-1; Thirtyfirststreet, Hector Berrios, 20-1; Java Man, Garrett Gomez, 4-1; Tweebster, Rafael Bejarano, 3-1; Utopian, Chantal Sutherland, 6-1; Tres Borrachos, Joel Rosario, 5-2; Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith, 9-2; and Massone, Martin Garcia, 8-1.
ECLIPSE FINALIST ACCLAMATION TO REMAIN AT SANTA ANITA
Don Warren had hoped to run Acclamation in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last Nov. 5 until an injury put a halt to those plans. Now the trainer of the 6-year-old bay horse would be thrilled to settle for recognition off the race track.
Acclamation is a finalist in two categories for an Eclipse Award, Older Male and Male Turf Horse. The winners will be announced on Jan. 16. “It feels good, and he deserves to be one of the finalists,” Warren said. “He had a great year.”
The son of Unusual Heat finished 2011 with five straight graded stakes wins, three of them Grade I’s, including the Pacific Classic on Del Mar’s synthetic Polytrack. The other four were on turf, including the Grade I Charlie Whittingham and the Grade I Eddie Read.
He won the Grade II Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita last Oct. 2 before he was sidelined with a bruised foot.
An Eclipse Award would provide Warren and owners Peter and Mary Hilvers and Bud and Judy Johnston with such a prestigious prize. “It would be nice,” Warren said, “to have a keepsake like that.”
Initial plans called for Acclamation to be turned out at Old English Rancho in Sanger following his injury, but the sturdy bay has remained at Warren’s Santa Anita barn where he will stay to prepare for his return to the races.
“He’s still at my barn,” Warren said. “In fact, we did a little light training last week and we’re taking it easy again this week. We’ll slowly get him back going. We were going to send him to the farm, but they kept procrastinating.
“They figured the help is better here and they have me here watching him, eye-balling him every day a couple times a day. They felt a little more comfortable keeping him here, I guess.”
FINISH LINES: Syndicated handicapper Bob Ike and HRTV’s Peter Lurie will be host Jack Disney’s guests on Sunday’s Fans Forum, 11:15 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens.