California Flag has an opportunity that few horses ever get—a do-over at the Breeders’ Cup. A diabolically fast pace cooked him in last year’s inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but the improved version of California Flag may be much tougher in this year’s running.
Because of the Breeders’ Cup moves around the country, returning horses have always had to make their second attempt at a completely different location. For 2009, though, Oak Tree will be the first to host back-to-back Breeders’ Cups, and that bodes well for a Santa Anita downhill turf specialist such as California Flag.
The California-bred 5-year-old feels great these days, said trainer Brian Koriner. At the end of California Flag’s 2008 campaign, Koriner had a small chip surgically removed from the gelding’s left ankle.
California Flag returned in August to win the Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar, and then won a second consecutive Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Oak Tree down the same course as the Turf Sprint. Regular jockey Joe Talamo rode him in both races and will be back for the Breeders’ Cup.
“He used to be anxious, get hot in the paddock, and be really rambunctious,” said Koriner. “Since he’s come back from the layoff, he’s been very kind walking to the gate, with his head down and really relaxed.”
That will likely help California Flag, even though he could still set the pace. Koriner just wants to avoid fractions like the :41 4/5 that California Flag recorded after a half-mile in last year’s Turf Sprint.
“We don’t want to do what we did last year,” said Koriner. “Joe is able to get him relaxed a little more leaving the gate.”
California Flag comes by his affinity for Santa Anita’s downhill course naturally. His full sister, Cambiocorsa, also loved the Santa Anita turf course. Koriner said that gelding California Flag in mid-2008 has also helped.
“Since being gelded, he’s six for eight,” Koriner said. “He got beaten going a mile and in the Breeders’ Cup—otherwise he’s undefeated.”
Keith and Barbara Card own and bred California Flag, a son of Avenue of Flags—Ultrafleet, by Afleet. The Cards are longtime California breeders. Keith is a past president and current board member of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and is the president of the California Thoroughbred Farm Managers Association.