The Californian shares top billing with the $175,000 Milady Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares. Trainer John Shirreffs, jockey Mike Smith, and owners Ann and Jerry Moss have a chance to repeat their sweep of Oaklawn Park's Apple Blossom (gr. I) and Oaklawn (gr. II) Handicaps April 5 with Zenyatta in the Milady and Tiago here.
But Tiago, who carries 126 pounds and adds nine off his hard-fought head victory over Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Heatseeker in Arkansas, must also deal with the rejuvenated Surf Cat, who comes off a triumph in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood April 26. All have designs on the $1-million Hollywood Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles June 28.
In Tiago's only prior try on Hollywood's synthetic surface less than a year ago, the 4-year-old son of Pleasant Tap won the Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) by 2 1/2 lengths. Tiago, who finished fourth, four lengths behind Heatseeker in the Big 'Cap, turned the tables on his rival at Oaklawn, winning a gritty stretch duel for Smith in the final nod. Tiago is a two-time grade I winner for Shirreffs and has earned $1,684,270 with five victories overall in 13 tries.
Heatseeker, a millionaire as well for owner William de Burgh, would seem to have gotten the better of the weights this time around. He'll carry 122, three more than he lugged in Arkansas. After his victory in the Santa Anita Handicap, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer gave the 5-year-old Giant's Causeway horse two months off prior to the game Oaklawn effort.
Rafael Bejarano is aboard the Irish-bred chestnut, who worked :58 3/5 officially May 25 at Hollywood.
"It was a nice work. It seems like he really likes the Hollywood Park racetrack," Hollendorfer said.
Heatseeker has a win over the Hollywood synthetic surface, taking the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) in December. He owns a record of 6-5-2 in 16 starts while banking $1,027,776 in his career.
He will break from the rail with Tiago to his immediate outside.
The 6-year-old Surf Cat has probably never been better for trainer Bruce Headley. Owned by Aase Headley and Marsha Naify, the son of Sir Cat won the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy for the second time in three years with a sustained drive through the lane to defeat Desert Code by a half length. Surf Cat has won four of six races with two seconds at Hollywood Park in his career.
Prior to the LeRoy, Surf Cat won the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February and ran second in the Potrero Grande (gr. II) six weeks later. The ultra-consistent horse has been in the money in 16 of his 18 races, including nine wins, and boasts earnings of $925,420. He'll carry 118 pounds in the Californian and will have regular rider Alex Solis aboard.
Albertus Maximus, second to Tiago in last year's Swaps, comes off a 6 1/4-length allowance victory April 23 for trainer Gary Mandella.
The French-bred Shamdinan, disappointing this year in three starts since his distant runner-up showing to English Channel in the 2007 John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), tries a switch to synthetic for new trainer Dan McFarlane.
$250,000 Californian Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 4:50 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Heatseeker (IRE), 122, Rafael Bejarano
2. Tiago (KY), 126, Mike E. Smith
3. Shamdinan (FR), 116, Jon K. Court
4. Surf Cat (KY), 118, Alex O. Solis
5. Albertus Maximus (KY), 116, Corey S. Nakatani