Tiz a Minister faces 7 in the Snow Chief Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Tiz a Minister faces 7 in the Snow Chief Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Benoit Photo

On Derby Cusp, 'Minister Heads for Snow Chief

Trainer Paul Aguirre says trip to Louisville still possible for California-bred.

On the bubble for a possible start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Tiz a Minister has been entered in the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes, the featured event for California-breds April 27 at Betfair Hollywood Park.

After chasing the likes of Flashback  and Goldencents  in his two most recent starts, the late-running son of Ministers Wild Cat  should appreciate the drop in class in the Snow Chief, a 1 1/8-mile test over Hollywood's Cushion Track.

Eight 3-year-olds are entered, with Tiz a Minister starting from the far outside for trainer Paul Aguirre and S A Y Racing partners. Aguirre says a one-week turnaround for the Kentucky Derby remains possible should the late-running colt qualify for the field.

The Snow Chief is the ninth on a 10-race program Saturday with a 5 p.m. PDT scheduled post. It headlines the 14th annual California Gold Rush series, which this year features eight stakes for state-bred horses or horses sired by stallions standing in the Golden State. The races are worth $1.06 million in purses.

With a fast-closing third-place finish in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) last month and a distant fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 6, Tiz a Minister has amassed 20 points toward a possible start in the Kentucky Derby May 4. The colt currently sits in 22nd place on the Derby standings and would need two defections to make the starting group of 20. Two horses immediately in front of him, Charming Kitten and Code West, have not been confirmed to start.

"We're 99% sure we're going to run (in the Snow Chief)," Aguirre said. "I guess if something were to happen in the next couple of days and we moved up two or three spots (on the Derby list), the owners might think about scratching him. But we intend to run.

"It's a $300,000 race and we can't sit around waiting and miss an opportunity. The timing is kind of forcing our hand," he said.

If Tiz a Minister, who is based at Hollywood, runs well in the Snow Chief and the Derby spot opens up, Aguirre said the owners would consider wheeling right back the following Saturday.

"It's a possibility as long as he's doing good. He always seems to come out of his races really well," Aguirre said. "In the entire time I've had him, he's never dropped a pound after one of his races, never had any heat (in his joints). Also the synthetic tracks, especially the Cushion Track at Hollywood, seem to be a lot easier on him than dirt."

Claimed for $40,000 by his current connections last Aug. 2 at Del Mar, Tiz a Minister has won two of 11 starts with six placings and earnings of $327,780. He was a winner the last time he faced state-breds, taking the one-mile California Breeders' Champion Stakes with a last-to-first rally over a wet/fast track Jan. 26 at Santa Anita Park. Corey Nakatani will be aboard the 124-pound high weight for the first time.

Among his rivals in the Snow Chief will be Omega Star, stretching out again for trainer John Shirreffs after a nose victory over Fighting Hussar in the restricted Echo Eddie Stakes March 30 at Santa Anita.

Owned by his breeders, Herman Sarkowsky and Marty Wygod, Omega Star has won two of five starts and ran second to Tiz a Minister in the Cal Breeders' Champion. The Candy Ride  gelding out of the Fusaichi Pegasus  mare Pride of Pegasus has banked $213,250.

This will be the first start at Hollywood Park for Omega Star, but he’s trained regularly over the track since arriving in California from New York late last year.

Fighting Hussar, second at nearly 24-1 in the Echo Eddie, will be making only his second start around two turns for trainer Hector Palma, who co-owns the gray with B G Stable. The son of Rockport Harbor was fifth in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes at one mile, beaten by more than nine lengths by Tiz a Minister.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will send out Donald Dizney's homebred Surfcup. A son of Unusual Heat, Surfcup was fourth last time in the Echo Eddie.

Nina's Dragon, runner-up in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) for trainer Lloyd Mason at 13-1 in February, returns to California after finishing 12th of 14 in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) March 30 at FairGrounds Race Course & Slots.

The $250,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles is headed by Doinghardtimeagain, an easy winner of the Evening Jewel last month at Santa Anita. The Melair is the fourth on the program.

Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer for owner/breeder Tommy Town Thoroughbreds, Doinghardtimeagain won the inaugural Soviet Problem by 2 1/4 lengths for her first stakes win last December at Hollywood. She is 2-for-2 over Cushion Track.

Also a daughter of Ministers Wild Cat, Doinghardtimeagain has three wins and three seconds from seven starts with earnings of $346,270.

Qiaona, winner of the filly division of the one-mile Cal Breeders Championship Jan. 26 at Santa Anita, will be stretching out once more for trainer Ed Moger Jr. after finishing a distant fourth in the Evening Jewel. She rallied from far back to prevail in the Cal Breeders by a half-length at 23-1.

Baffert, who won the Melair twice previously, is represented by Kaleem Shah's Sweet Marini, who ran last at 3-5 in the Evening Jewel. She races without blinkers this time.

Grade I winner Teddy's Promise will be seeking her fifth win over Cushion Track when she takes on 10 opponents in the $125,000 guaranteed B. Thoughtful Stakes for older fillies and mares at 7 1/2 furlongs. It goes as the eighth race.

Owned by breeders Ted and Judy Nichols and trained by Ron Ellis, the 5-year-old daughter of Salt Lake makes her first appearance in state-bred company at Hollywood Park since she won an optional claimer by 5 1/4 lengths Dec. 2, 2010.

Sugarinthemorning, who finished behind Teddy’s Promise in a pair of graded stakes earlier in the year at Santa Anita, will be trying to end an 11-race losing streak for trainer Ron McAnally in the B. Thoughtful.

Mel's Game headlines the field for the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes, which is for older males at 7 1/2 furlongs. Trained by Mike Mitchell for owner/breeder Nick Alexander, Mel’s Game is undefeated in three races in 2013 since donning blinkers. Julien Leparoux rides the 4-year-old Game Plan colt from the rail post in the field of eight.

Harris Farms' homebred John Scott, two-for-two over Cushion Track for trainer Carla Gaines, shortens up after a nose win in the grassy Crystal Water Stakes Jan. 26 at Santa Anita. He is a six-time winner from 12 lifetime starts with earnings of $460,304.

The remaining Gold Rush Stakes are the $60,000 Alphabet Kisses for maiden fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs, the $60,000 NTRA for maiden colts & geldings at 6 1/2 furlongs, the $70,000 Warren’s Thoroughbreds for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs, and the $70,000 Grey Memo for older horses at seven furlongs.

$300,000 Snow Chief Stakes (Race 9, 5 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 MIles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Alydidit (CA), O Mojica, 116, W Solis
2. Fighting Hussar (CA), V Espinoza, 116, H O Palma
3. Nina's Dragon (CA), J Couton, 116, L C Mason
4. Omega Star (CA), J Talamo, 120, J A Shirreffs
5. Heat Streaker (CA), J R Leparoux, 116, S Miyadi
6. Surfcup (CA), R Bejarano, 118, B Baffert
7. Bobo (CA), J Valdivia Jr., 116, P Gallagher
8. Tiz a Minister (CA), C S Nakatani, 124, P G Aguirre
Blinkers On: Heat Streaker