Hollywood Race Report: Summer School

Hollywood Race Report: Summer School
Photo: Benoit Photo
Sligo Bay holds off Grammarian to win Hollywood Turf Cup.
Published in the Nov. 30 issue of The Blood-Horse
The colt seemed in perfect shape. As usual, he had trained superbly. Vets gave him the thumbs up. But for some reason, there was no longer any spark.

Sligo Bay was stuck in a disappointing rut, so to cure his blues, he got a vacation. It was an unusual route indeed, but the dividends finally surfaced on Nov. 23 when he parlayed his peculiar summer break into a 9-1 upset in the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT).

Of course, Sligo Bay has never lacked in potential, and his victory in the 12-furlong Turf Cup was no surprise. Trained early on in Europe by Aidan O'Brien, the son of Sadler's Wells was good enough to run third in the 10-furlong Criterium de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) before a sale, brokered by Irish bloodstock agent Eddie Harty, sent the colt to California to trainer Beau Greely and owner Andrea Pollock. He won his U.S. bow in 2001, Hollywood's Cinema Handicap (gr. IIIT), and by year's end, narrow defeats in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT), Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), and San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT)--heartbreakers all of them--merely validated his promise.

From there, the development stalled. Though hopes were understandably high when Sligo Bay appeared as a 4-year-old this spring, a trio of subpar efforts raised obvious concerns. According to Greely, the reason was nebulous.

"Nothing really went wrong with him physically," he said. "He was sound as could be, and there wasn't a problem with him. I just think mentally he got sour.

"In all honesty, this is a horse that always has been a good feeler, looks well, and performs well on the track in the morning," Greely added, "and that's why we couldn't figure anything wrong with him. Even going into the races that he did not run so well, he didn't really show that to you. He looked like he was going great. But you knew that he was a better horse than he was showing. At that point, you just figure a change of venue might help."

Perplexed by Sligo Bay's odd regression, Greely decided to improvise. Seeking a diversion for the listless colt, he entrusted Sligo Bay to Bill Wildes, a local country songwriter/equine troubleshooter. Wildes promptly converted him into a temporary cow pony. Sligo Bay worked cattle. He crossed rivers. He rode trails, all beneath a western saddle.

"It was kind of like a summer camp for him, you know," said Greely. "As opposed to just turning a horse out in a field, you're doing something a bit different with him and keeping him somewhat fit at the same time. He went out and enjoyed life a bit."

The change of scenery worked wonders. Sligo Bay came back a refreshed animal and signaled his return with an easy win going 1 1/4-miles at Oak Tree. Nonetheless, he faced quality competition in the Hollywood Turf Cup, led by recent standouts Delta Form, Rochester, and grade-I winner Cetewayo. It was Grammarian, however, who proved to be the biggest threat.

Grammarian had shocked a good field in Hollywood's 1 1/2-mile Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) in July, and when the Turf Cup got underway, jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. immediately put the son of Definite Article on the pace. Left to his own devices, he simply galloped around the entire course, racing alone through the opening mile in 1:38.65. The others finally closed in on the far turn, but Grammarian managed to slip clear again.

For a few moments, it seemed that Valdivia had saved enough and Grammarian was on the verge of another Hollywood upset. Laffit Pincay Jr. had played it cool throughout on Sligo Bay, though, and sent him after Grammarian leaving the backstretch. The move was steady, and inside the sixteenth pole, Sligo Bay finally caught him, bursting ahead to win by a length. Delta Form emerged late to catch Rochester for third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Grammarian.

"He's so beautifully bred, and that was our hope to get a grade I race," Greely said the morning after the Turf Cup. "We knew that he was that caliber of horse. It's never an easy spot in a grade I, and he proved himself to be a nice horse doing it. It was a lot of fun."

Greely also acknowledged that the near future could take Sligo Bay in a new direction. Versatile on grass from a mile and beyond, he may get a shot on the main track.

"He goes as well on the dirt as he does the turf. But you never know until you run them, obviously," said Greely. "But I think that that might be a strong possibility."

Becerra's Roll
For trainer Rafael Becerra, possibility is definitely the name of the game right now. With one budding 2-year-old, Crackup, already on the rise, Becerra watched his other new shooter, Roll Hennessy Roll, run off with the $125,000 Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) at seven furlongs.

Equipped with blinkers for the first time, the son of Hennessy made it look easy, fighting off a pair of challenges before bounding under the wire by four lengths under Alex Solis. The final time was 1:22.68. Where Roll Hennessy Roll turns up next, however, remains to be seen.

Both he and Crackup are owned by Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in New Mexico, and Becerra naturally wants to keep the two apart. Crackup, a son of Distorted Humor, may compete in the NTRA Great State Challenge Juvenile at Sam Houston Race Park on Dec. 7. If so, Roll Hennessy Roll could make the logical progression to the Dec. 21 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I).

"If you've got a good horse, you can just pick a spot," Becerra said. "There's so many ways you can do it. The way that this horse ran today, I would like to run him in the Hollywood Futurity." b

At the Wire
Grammarian will stay in California and will now be trained by Beau Greely...It was a highly productive week for Laffit Pincay Jr. who racked up 10 other wins in addition to Sligo Bay's triumph in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT). His week included a trio of hat-tricks...The Stute family turned in a memorable triple of their own, as Warren Stute, brother Mel, and nephew Gary each saddled a winner on the Nov. 21 card...Expiating his unlucky run in the California Cup Classic, Hot Market led all the way to win the 7 1/2-furlong On Trust Handicap for Cal-breds on Nov. 23. The 4-year-old Cee's Tizzy gelding beat Grey Memo by 3 1/2 lengths for breeder John Harris, co-owner Per Antonsen, and trainer Craig Lewis. The following afternoon, Cee's Elegance--a daughter of Cee's Tizzy--came through to take the 7 1/2-furlong Cat's Cradle Handicap for Cal-bred fillies and mares. Bred by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens and owned by Cees Stable, the 5-year-old mare won by four lengths. Doug O'Neill is her trainer...Hataab, who ran second to Sligo Bay at Oak Tree a month ago, turned in a sensational final quarter to win a 1 1/8-mile turf event on Nov. 24. Neil Drysdale trains the son of Woodman for Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Farm.

By Craig Harzmann

(Chart, Equibase)

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