Ball Four, who proved too tough for the previously undefeated Rail Trip on the front end in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) one month ago, is back as the 120-pound co-high weight for the $250,000 Californian (gr. II) at Hollywood Park June 13.
Also weighted at 120 is Mr Napper Tandy, who switches from the turf to Cushion Track following a game head victory in the San Francisco Handicap (gr. IIT) at Golden Gate Fields last time out.
A highly contentious field of 12 is entered for the nine-furlong event, the second of the local handicap races leading to the $700,000 TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 11. Included in the Californian cast is 2008 Gold Cup upsetter Mast Track for trainer Bobby Frankel. Nine Californian winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup, the most recent being Lava Man in 2005. The race goes as the ninth on the card at 5 p.m. PDT.
Flying Zee Stable's Ball Four, a veteran 8-year-old Grand Slam gelding trained by Patrick Biancone, was overlooked at odds of 16-1 in the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy. Ball Four was allowed to establish a comfortable pace under Joe Talamo, and Rail Trip, the 3-5 favorite after winning the first five races of his career, was never able to get on equal footing with the front-runner in the homestretch, losing by 1 1/4 lengths.
Ball Four, a two-time grade II winner who was supplemented to the Mervyn LeRoy after a four-month absence, earned his seventh victory in 25 starts and now boasts earnings of $711,520. Talamo will be aboard once again when Ball Four breaks from post eight.
Rail Trip, a 4-year-old Jump Start gelding conditioned by Ron Ellis for Jay Em Ess Stable and ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., gave in late while holding second by a half-length over another Californian foe, Dakota Phone. Ellis and Valdivia united to win the 2007 Californian with Buzzards Bay.
Dakota Phone, to be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, will attempt to give trainer Jerry Hollendorfer back-to-back Californian wins. Hollendorfer and Bejarano teamed to score a 5 1/4-length victory with even-money favorite Heatseeker in the Californian last year. Dakota Phone, nosed by Rail Trip in the Santana Mile Handicap in his prior start, is after his first graded stakes win.
“It seems like a well-spaced series for him,” said Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward. “He tries hard every time.”
Lacking many turf opportunities for Mr Napper Tandy, trainer Jack Carava puts the La Canada Stables runner back on synthetic, where he hopes the 5-year-old Great Britain-bred can improve with his newfound confidence following a couple of sterling grass efforts. Mr Napper Tandy came to life with a fast-closing second in Santa Anita Park's Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT), then proved successful with his late turn of foot to just get up in the San Francisco Mile.
Mast Track, who is also owned and bred by Frankel, connected at odds of better than 10-1 while setting a leisurely pace in the 2008 Gold Cup. The son of Mizzen Mast who has failed to win in five starts since then has been training under Frankel's eye at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old has won five of 15 starts for earnings of $760,022 and will be ridden by David Flores.
Song of Navarone, a 5-year-old son of 1992 Gold Cup winner Sultry Song, invades from New Mexico via Lone Star Park in Texas. He had a four-race winning streak in New Mexico before finishing a troubled third in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) on Memorial Day.
Trained by Henry Dominguez and owned by George Coleman, Song of Navarone has won eight of 12 starts for earnings of $667,158. In his lone Southern California start, he finished third in the 2007 Sham (gr. III) at Santa Anita before winning the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park.
West Point Thoroughbreds' Awesome Gem, a 6-year-old by Awesome Again , is the most accomplished horse in the field with four wins and nine seconds in 24 starts for earnings of $1,243,882. A fast-closing third by just a neck as the favorite in the Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) on Memorial Day at Golden Gate Fields, he registered his biggest win in the 2007 San Fernando (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
Aitcho, trained by John Shirreffs for Jerry and Ann Moss, steps up in class after scoring a smart 1 1/16-mile allowance win at Hollywood April 26.
Doug O'Neill entered a pair: Informed, coming off a fourth-place finish in Churchill Downs' Alysheba (gr. III) May 1, and Ukiah, who takes a class hike after running second in a first-level allowance at Hollywood May 23.
$250,000 Californian Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 5 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Mr Napper Tandy (GB), J A Garcia, 120, J Carava
2. Mast Track (KY), D R Flores, 116, R J Frankel
3. Rail Trip (KY), J Valdivia, Jr., 116, R W Ellis
4. Aitcho (KY), M E Smith, 116, J A Shirreffs
5. Ukiah (KY), C S Nakatani, 116, D F O'Neill
6. Song of Navarone (KY), V Espinoza, 118, H Dominguez
7. Informed (KY), T Baze, 116, D F O'Neill
8. Ball Four (KY), J Talamo, 120, P L Biancone
9. Limestone Edge (KY), J Rosario, 116, R B Hess, Jr.
10. Unusual Smoke (CA), M Garcia, 118, A C Avila
11. Dakota Phone (KY), R Bejarano, 116, J Hollendorfer
12. Awesome Gem (KY), A O Solis, 116, C Dollase