(from Hollywood Park)
The Irish tandem of trainer Dermot Weld and jockey Patrick Smullen, who combined to win the Matriarch (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park four years ago with Dress to Thrill, have returned with their sights set on the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) Dec. 6.
Winchester, winner of the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park while making his North American debut in August, will try to rebound in the Turf Cup following a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) in October.
The 3-year-old son of Theatrical (who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf when it was run at Hollywood Park in 1987) was held out of last week’s Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) to run in the 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup.
“I think he looks better than he did before the Breeders’ Cup,” Weld said Dec. 4 following his arrival in Southern California the night before. “He has enjoyed his time here. The weather has been good. He’s thriving. It was a hard call deciding whether to run him here or in the Hollywood Derby last week. I just decided this race gave him a little more time to get over a tough race in the Breeders’ Cup. He has just begun to blossom in the last week or ten days.”
Smullen, who clinched his fifth Irish jockey championship this year, believes Winchester should improve off the Breeders’ Cup.
“The Breeders’ Cup was a strangely run race,” he said. “They went very fast early, and he was squeezed a little leaving the gate. It was a grueling race, he had the least experience of any of the runners, and he still ran respectably against the best horses in the world. He is improving and with the experience of the Breeders’ Cup will be a better horse Saturday. We thought he was an exceptional horse early in the year, and he showed his true potential in the Secretariat.”
Weld has been successful at Hollywood Park, also sending out Dimitrova to win the 2003 American Oaks and Grey Swallow to win the 2006 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT).
“Hollywood Park has been a very lucky track for us,” he said.
Weld hopes the colt’s extensive travel schedule would conclude with a year-end victory. “He had a busy year in Europe,” said Weld. “He ran at Ascot and in the Irish Derby. He shipped back and forth for the Secretariat and shipped again for the Breeders’ Cup. I‘m hoping the extra week here will pay dividends.”
He's keeping his fingers crossed that Winchester will handle the 1 1/2-mile distance. He is winless in three outings at that distance. “A mile and a quarter is his best trip so my concern is going a mile and a half,” admitted Weld. “That’s the imponderable.”
Winchester, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone, has won two of seven starts for earnings of $294,029. Seeking to become the first 3-year-old to capture the Turf Cup since Bien Bien won by disqualification in 1992, he will break from post 3 in a field of nine.