Buzzards Bay, winner of the 2005 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and the 2006 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), returns from an 11-month layoff in Saturday’s $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park.
Ron Ellis, who assumed the training duties of Buzzards Bay when he was purchased by Gary Broad in the summer of 2005, has been impressed while watching the 5-year-old training over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track. Winner of two of four starts in 2006, the chestnut has not started since finishing fourth -- beaten two lengths -- in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on June 17.
“He had some ankle problems and I sent him to the farm -- Bonnie Acres -- for a couple of months after Oak Tree,” Ellis said. “Mentally he needed a break, too. He had strong campaigns at two, three and four, and the time off really benefited him. I think he’s better now than he was before.”
Buzzards Bay, fifth in the 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), will carry high weight of 120 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy. He has won five of 16 starts while earning $1,157,507.
The Mervyn LeRoy, named for one of the founders of Hollywood Park, is the first major steppingstone to the 68th running of the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) on June 30.
Molengao, trained by Paulo Lobo for Stud TNT, has been in top-notch form, winning the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) and finishing second, beaten less than one length by Lava Man, in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in his only two 2007 starts.
Espinoza, originally scheduled to be in Louisville on Saturday, was able to change plans and take the call on Molengao when Cobalt Blue was taken off the Derby trail earlier this week. Molengao enters the Mervyn LeRoy with four wins in 14 starts and earnings of $498,477.
Wanna Runner, owned by Mike Pegram and trained by Bob Baffert, will also be returning from an extensive layoff. The Canadian-bred won the WinStar Derby and Lone Star Park Derby (gr. III) in 2006, but hasn’t started since finishing sixth in the West Virginia Derby (gr. III) at Mountaineer Park on Aug. 6. He has four wins in 10 starts for earnings of $578,556.
French-bred Porto Santo will test Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track after making all 13 of his previous starts on turf. The 4-year-old won the Bien Bien on opening day of Hollywood's 2006 autumn meet and has four wins overall for earnings of $229,428 for the Lanni Family Trust and Mercedes Stable.
Billy Allen, Brave Maestro and Cimyla will also be starting for the first time on Cushion Track.
Ben Cecil will send out Brave Maestro and also supervise the saddling of Cimyla, who arrived at Hollywood Park Tuesday from Great Britain.
“Cimyla was a Polytrack specialist in England,” Cecil said. “Brave Maestro should run better on Cushion Track too. He had quite a lot of trouble in a strong race in his last start.”
Brave Maestro finished fourth, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, in an allowance race on turf March 31 at Santa Anita. He will be making his first start on a synthetic surface since arriving from England last fall. Before arriving in Southern California, he won four of 16 starts on synthetic surfaces.
Hollywood Park gates will open at 7:30 a.m. Saturday for the Kentucky Derby day program.
$150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II, Race 10, 4:50 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Porto Santo (FR), 115, Brice Blanc
2. Mambo Train (KY), 112, Martin Garcia
3. Buzzards Bay (FL), 120, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
4. Molengao (BRZ), 118, Victor Espinoza
5. Bravo Maestro (KY), 111, Martin A. Pedroza
6. Billy Allen (IRE), 110, Joseph Talamo
7. Cimyla (IRE), 114, Michael C. Baze
8. Wanna Runner (ON), 116, Jon K. Court