With the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) to be run Saturday, the question is, can anyone beat Heatseeker, who has emerged as the top older horse in the West and a major threat in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) run over a synthetic track, which he apparently loves?
The other question is, where did this son of Giant's Causeway come from after racing in virtual obscurity until his 30-1 upset victory in last December’s Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park?
Well, he originally came from Ireland, where he was born and raised, and where he won the first two starts of his career at Naas and Tipperary for trainer David Wachman before finishing third at 9-1 in the group I National Stakes. Then he was sold by owner and breeder Richard Barnes to Nelson Radwan and sent to Bobby Frankel, for whom he started six times, finishing second in three allowance races and the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar.
After his fifth start for Frankel, he was sold to William Deburgh, who after the Windy Sands sent him to Jerry Hollendorfer. He won his first start for Hollendorfer, an allowance optional claimer at Santa Anita Oct. 8. After a seventh-place finish in the Morvich Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on the grass, he burst on the public scene with his score in the Native Diver.
Since then, he has won the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Californian (gr. II), and finished second in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) and third in the San Pasqual (gr. II).
“He’s a horse that’s maturing and just coming into his own,” Hollendorfer said. “He has gathered a lot of confidence, and that’s why he’s doing well now. Some horses take a while to come around, and he was kind of like that. Once he got his confidence, he turned into a better horse. But he was always well meant. When he was in the Frankel barn, they thought a lot of him, so everybody knew he had a lot of potential.”
In Heatseeker’s last work June 22, he blazed five furlongs in :57 4/5, but Hollendorfer’s time differed from the clockers.
“I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I didn’t get him that fast,” he said. “It seems foolish to say, but he did it within himself, and when he came back he wasn’t very tired. I’m not going to say it was the right work, but apparently it didn’t bother him too much. (Jockey) Rafael Bejarano has been very pleased with the way he has been training, and we’re pleased with the way he’s holding his form and his weight, so it looks like we’re coming up to the race in pretty good shape.”
The Gold Cup will be the fourth meeting between Heatseeker and Tiago, with Heatseeker coming out on top in the Big 'Cap and Californian on a synthetic surface, and Tiago out-dueling Heatseeker by a head in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) on dirt.
“Tiago is a great horse and John Shirreffs and I are good friends,” Hollendorfer said. “The last time I talked to him, we said how fortunate we both felt having a horse good enough to run in these big races. That’s our rivalry. There are other good horses that are going to be in the field, and we’re not thinking the race is just between us.”
Shirreffs realizes Tiago has his work cut out for him against Heatseeker after being beaten 5 1/4 lengths in the nine-furlong Californian.
“Heatseeker was very impressive in the Californian and won pretty much going away, and with the Gold Cup being a handicap and Tiago carrying more weight than Heatseeker in the last race (126-122), we thought that we needed a real shift in the weights to make it fair," Shirreffs said.
He did get a decent shift, with Heatseeker picking up a pound at 123 and Tiago dropping five pounds to 121.
“Heatseeker has been very tough on synthetic racetracks and has trained marvelously over them,” Shirreffs said. “So, it seems like he’s primed for a great race. I think everybody enjoys seeing horses run against each other on different occasions, because then you know the participants in the race and get a feeling for what’s going on. Heatseeker and Tiago are recognized by a lot of people, so it’s exciting for us to be involved in it.
“Jerry and I go back a long way in Northern California, and I have the utmost respect for him and I’m excited to see him in this race. For Tiago for have the best opportunity to win we need a good pace. Tiago is always tough in the stretch if he can get within a head of a horse, as he showed at Oaklawn and in last year’s Goodwood (gr. I). He pins his ears and doesn’t want to lose, and he tries his best when he gets in that situation. That’s why we hope to have enough pace, so he can be fighting at the wire.”