Grade I winner Morning Line debuts for new trainer John Shirreffs in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) May 5 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Winner of the Carter Handicap (gr. I) last spring when part of trainer Nick Zito's stable, Morning Line faces a field that includes fellow grade I winners Awesome Gem and Jaycito in the 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track test.
The Mervyn LeRoy is the first major local stakes prep leading up the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 7. The race is the main event on Hollywood's Kentucky Derby day program that also includes the $100,000 Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. The LeRoy is race 10 at 4:30 p.m. PDT. Hollywood Park will have an early first post of 11 a.m. to accommodate the Churchill Downs program.
Owned by a partnership that includes Will Farish, Dixiana Stables and Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable, Morning Line hasn’t run since finishing last in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) last Aug. 6 at Saratoga Race Course. The 5-year-old horse by Tiznow out of the A.P. Indy mare Indian Snow had bone chips removed from both knees shortly after the Whitney.
Morning Line has won four of 12 starts and earned $1,122,300. Besides the Carter, which he won in game fashion by 1 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct Racetrack in April 2011, his victories include the 2010 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). He was also second to Giant Oak in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) last year at Gulfstream Park, and second, beaten by a head by Dakota Phone, in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).
The Mervyn LeRoy will mark the first start over a synthetic surface for Morning Line.
“I really like what I’ve seen so far,’’ said Shirreffs, who is seeking his first win in the LeRoy. “He looks very competitive and like typical Tiznows, he’s very versatile. The owners just decided to give him some time off after his last race.’’
Joe Talamo, who won the 2009 LeRoy aboard Ball Four, has the call on Morning Line.
Awesome Gem, who upset Rail Trip in the 2010 Hollywood Gold Cup for his lone grade I victory, will make his second start as a 9-year-old. He tuned up with an off-the-turf allowance victory April 12 over Golden Gate Field's Tapeta surface April 12.
Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Craig Dollase, who won the 2001 LeRoy with Futural, Awesome Gem is 10-for-48 with a bankroll of $2,761,370.
Morning Line and Awesome Gem were assigned top weight of 119 pounds apiece.
In search of his first LeRoy victory, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will send out 4-year-olds Jaycito and Prayer for Relief for owner Ahmed Zayat. They race uncoupled.
Jaycito's lone victory in seven lifetime starts came for trainer Mike Mitchell in Oak Tree's Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) at Hollywood as a 2-year-old in October 2010. The Victory Gallop colt has five runner-up finishes, including a distant second behind Ultimate Eagle in the Strub Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 4 at Santa Anita. That was his first start since last August.
Prayer for Relief has five wins in 13 attempts and earnings of $1,057,225. Three of his wins came in Derbies as a 3-year-old, including the Iowa (gr. III) at Prairie Meadows, the West Virginia (gr. II) at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, and the Super (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs. His other two wins came in three starts over Cushion Track. The Jump Start colt ran three times at Santa Anita in 2012, finishing third in both the San Fernando (gr. II) and Strub (gr. II) stakes, and 12th in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
John Sadler, who is also without a win in this race, has entered Gladding and Kettle Corn , both owned by Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable. Gladding and Kettle Corn race uncoupled.
Gladding won the Sant Antonio Stakes (gr. II) in February 2011 but is winless in five starts since. The 5-year-old Sarava gelding will be making his Betfair Hollywood Park debut.
Kettle Corn is 2-for-2 over Cushion Track, including a victory in the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) in his most recent appearance last Dec. 3. The 5-year-old Candy Ride horse has six wins from 12 starts.
$150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II, Race 10, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Jaycito (KY), B Blanc, 116, B Baffert
2. Prayer for Relief (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 116, B Baffert
3. Great Warrior (BRZ), O A Berrio, 114, A C Avila
4. Morning Line (KY), J Talamo, 119, J A Shirreffs
5. Kettle Corn (KY), A Quinonez, 116, J W Sadler
6. Thirtyfirststreet (CA), E Flores, 113, D F O'Neill
7. Awesome Gem (KY), M A Pedroza, 119, C Dollase
8. Gladding (FL), V Espinoza, 116, J W Sadler
9. Honour the Deputy (FL), K Krigger, 113, J Hollendorfer