Take Control, the first foal out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, will make his second start after a layoff of 2 1/2 years in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) July 28 at Del Mar.
It will be the first stakes appearance for Kaleem Shah's royally-bred 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy, a winner of both of his starts to date for trainer Bob Baffert.
Take Control won his debut smartly at Santa Anita Park Dec. 30, 2009, but shin problems that required two surgeries delayed his return until June 30 of this year. That's when he captured a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming event impressively in come-from-behind style on the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Now comes the acid test at the same distance in the San Diego, contested over Del Mar's Polytrack. Not only is the race a key stakes prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) next month, it also guarantees the winner a starting berth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 3 at Santa Anita as a Breeder's Cup Challenge event.
Seven Southern California-based horses are entered in the San Diego, including defending champion Tres Borrachos and several others that are coming off good efforts at Hollywood. The San Diego is the eighth race on the Saturday Del Mar program with an approximate 5:30 p.m. PDT post time.
Big things have been expected from Take Control, a sales-topping $1.9 million buy at the Keeneland April Sale of selected 2-year-olds in training in 2009. The chestnut, to be ridden again by Rafael Bejarano, may be finally healthy enough to realize that potential. Breaking from post 5, Take Control was assigned 113 pounds, six fewer than his top weighted Baffert stablemate, Prayer for Relief.
Zayat Stables' Prayer for Relief skipped the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) after running well in both of the stakes preps for the July 7 event. The 4-year-old son of Jump Start ran third behind stablemate Game On Dude in the Californian (gr. II) June 2 and was second by a half-length to Morning Line in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) one month before that.
Prayer for Relief is winless in seven tries since capturing the Super Derby (gr. II) last September. Joe Talamo has the call on the dark bay colt, who breaks just to the outside of Take Control in post 6.
Kettle Corn, like Prayer for Relief, will appreciate not having to go up against ultra-tough Game On Dude for once. C R K Stable's 5-year-old son of Candy Ride was second in the Californian and third last time behind Game On Dude in the Gold Cup for trainer John Sadler. Kettle Corn's last win came in the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood in December.
Jay Em Ess Stable's grade I winner Rail Trip was a strong second to San Diego foe John Scott in a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Hollywood June 28. The 7-year-old Jump Start gelding may be ready to put it all together in his third start of the year for trainer Ron Ellis since being transferred back to Southern California from the East Coast.
Another 7-year-old, Tres Borrachos, ended a 13-race losing streak when he made a late charge to win last year's San Diego by 1 1/4 lengths. But the Ecton Park gelding has lost eight in a row since for trainer Marty Jones and owners George Hicker and the Button Stable of James Taylor. Mike Smith tries his hand on Tres Borrachos, fourth last time in the seven-furlong Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) June 30 at Hollywood.
Also stretching out after the Triple Bend is third-place finisher Mobilized, a California-bred 6-year-old by Soul of the Matter trained by Gary Mandella.
John Scott, trained by Carla Gaines for owner/breeder Harris Farm, has looked good in three starts this year, winning his past two and defeating Rail Trip by a half-length last time. The 5-year-old son of Bertrando had been away since finishing fourth in the 2009 Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) as a 2-year-old.
$200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Kettle Corn (KY), G K Gomez, 117, J W Sadler
2. Mobilized (CA), C S Nakatani, 115, G Mandella
3. Tres Borrachos (KY), M E Smith, 116, M F Jones
4. John Scott (CA), V Espinoza, 114, C Gaines
5. Take Control (KY), R Bejarano, 113, B Baffert
6. Prayer for Relief (KY), J Talamo, 119, B Baffert
7. Rail Trip (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 118, R W Ellis