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Chad B. Harmon

Poker Player Could Be a Big Deal in Juv. Turf

Midwestern-based colt a 12-1 shot in $1 million event Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.

Gary and Mary West's Poker Player, fresh off a score over Polytrack at Keeneland in an off-the-turf Bourbon Stakes Oct. 6, may be a big deal Nov. 1 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT).

The gray/roan colt--a 12-1 shot on the morning linehas been sent after the big money before and he'll take his best shot at Santa Anita Park in the $1 million race for 2-year-olds going a mile.

Trainer Wayne Catalano has put his cards on the table with Poker Player, who will break from post 11 in the 13-horse field. Poker Player will be ridden by Channing Hill, who has been aboard for the colt's two wins.

"We're excited to be here and excited to be here for the Wests," Catalano said prior to Poker Player taking to the Santa Anita track for a morning gallop Oct. 30. "He broke his maiden on the turf and he's won on the Poly, so we thought this race would be our best shot."

Poker Player's first of two big-money runs came in his second start. After a fourth-place finish in a maiden special weight race at Catalano's summer base of Arlington Park in August, Poker Player was shipped to Kentucky Downs.

"We ran there because of the big purses," Catalano said of the one-mile maiden race Sept. 14 that offered a $93,000 purse. "You don't get to do that too many times. The purse structure was the real reason we went down there. We wanted to run all we could over there."

Poker Player wasn't the only big-pot runner for Catalano. The trainer went on a tear at the boutique meet in south central Kentucky, winning 10 races from 15 starters and taking down $576,537 in purses.

"You can't do that too many times," he said with a laugh.

Poker Player took $54,000 off the table after getting the trip in 1:39.00, then stormed from far off the pace in the 1 1/16-mile Bourbon for a $90,000 Polytrack payday as a 23-1 outsider. Second and third in the Bourbon are fellow Juvenile Turf runners Bashart (6-1) and Bon Accord (20-1).

"The little horse had been training all along on the Poly at Arlington," Catalano said. "He hits his foot pretty good on the Poly and he was training at Keeneland so he had a little bit of an edge."

Catalano is hoping to find an edge at Santa Anita for the Juvenile Turf. While the Wests will be looking for their first Breeders' Cup score, Catalano has three wins to his credit, all with 2-year-olds. He landed the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) in 2006 with Dreaming of Anna at Churchill Downs, took the 2009 edition with She Be Wild, and won the Juvenile Fillies Turf with Stephanie's Kitten in 2011.

"He's got a little more pedigree for the turf," Catalano also said. That might be a bit of an understatement.

By last year's leading juvenile sire Harlan's Holiday, Poker Player is out of Revel in the Win, by Red Bullet. The mare is out of turf stakes winner Icy Warning, who placed in a pair of grade III races on the grass. Revel in the Win is a half sister to stakes winner Devoted Unbridled, who ran second in the Anne Arundel Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Laurel and is the dam of Noble Damsel Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Unbridled Humor. Icy Warning is a full sister to Ops Smile, winner of both the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) and Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT).

Poker Player was bred in Kentucky by Nicholas and Rosemary Lotz and the Harlan's Holiday Syndicate. The West's bloodstock agent, Ben Glass, purchased Poker Player as a weanling at the 2011 Keeneland November sale for $120,000 from Brereton Jones/Airdrie Stud, agent.