Champs Elysees can make his dam, Hasili, the first Northern Hemisphere broodmare to produce five grade I winners with a victory in the Whittingham. Her prior grade I winners are Banks Hill, Heat Haze, Intercontinental and Cacique.
Trained by Bobby Frankel for Juddmonte Farms, the 5-year-old British-bred son of Danehill drifted out late in the 12-furlong Murray after taking command in the stretch, losing by a nose to On the Acorn in a tough decision. The Whittingham, at 1 1/4 miles, should be a little more accommodating for Champs Elysees, who faces six rivals. Lava Man, who won the Whittingham in 2006, is the 121-pound high weight.
Champs Elysees has won at the 10-furlong distance in the U.S., taking the San Marcos (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita in January. After racing 11 times in Europe, Champs Elysees has that victory to go with a pair of runner-up efforts and a third-place finish in four U.S. starts for Frankel.
Rafael Bejarano rides Champs Elysees for the first time. They break from the far outside post and will carry 119 pounds.
Lava Man returned from nearly six months off to finish an even third in the TVG Khaled Stakes on the Hollywood turf at 1 1/8 miles April 27. The multiple grade I winner has earned $5,232,706 in his fabulous career, but the 7-year-old California-bred gelding has lacked any closing punch in recent starts.
“He’s got to prove he’s back to his original form,” O’Neill said June 4. “He definitely needed his first out after his first vacation.”
In an effort to reverse the fortunes of his 17-time winner, trainer Doug O'Neill has replaced jockey Corey Nakatani with Tyler Baze after Nakatani had ridden the California star in 18 consecutive races.
After winning the Whittingham two years ago, Lava Man finished a strong second in 2007, giving way late to After Market.
“We’re excited about the race, he’s training great and we think he should win,” said O’Neill. “There’s an old cliché to take one race at a time. But we’re looking for a big effort, and if he comes out of it good, we know where his next start would be.”
That's the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) June 28, where Lava Man would be chasing an unprecedented fourth straight victory in 1 1/4-mile event on Cushion Track. Lava Man tied Native Diver, a winner from 1965-67, as the only three-time winner with a nose victory last year.
Grade I winner Artiste Royal never really got going in his last start, the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs on a good course May 3. But the 7-year-old ridgling has been training well for his return to Southern California.
Trained by Neil Drysdale, Artiste Royal rallied from last at Churchill to finish third, two lengths behind the victorious Einstein. In his most recent work since, the Irish-bred son of Danehill clocked 1:28 3/5 for seven furlongs on grass at Hollywood June 1.
"The course was too soft for him at Churchill," said Drysdale, seeking his sixth victory in the Whittingham. "He didn't like it. A mile and a quarter is his best distance."
Artiste Royal won the Clement Hirsch (gr. IT) at Santa Anita last October.
Warning Zone comes into the Whittingham off a runner-up finish in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) April 20 at Santa Anita for trainer John Sadler.
Mr. Wolverine, trained by Jorge Gutierrez, turned in a strong effort in defeating Lava Man in the Khaled, winning his first stakes race by nearly two lengths.
$300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT, Race 5, 2:08 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Monzante (KY), 113, Joel Rosario
2. Artiste Royal (IRE), 117, David R. Flores
3. Warning Zone (VA), 115, Mike E. Smith
4. Mr. Wolverine (CA), 114, Michael C. Baze
5. Plug Me In (KY), 113, Alonso Quinonez
6. Lava Man (CA), 121, Tyler Baze
7. Champs Elysees (GB), 119, Rafael Bejarano