Unfurl the Flag seeks to become the first horse in 50 years to successfully defend honors in the $300,000 Triple Bend Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Sunday.
Trainer Dave Bernstein hopes the 6-year-old California-bred gelding, no better than sixth in four starts since last year's two-length Triple Bend victory, is up to the seven-furlong challenge. A strong field of 10 is entered.
The son of Bertrando returned from a seventh-month layoff with a sixth-place finish in an allowance race at 6 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood June 14.
"His feet were bothering him, and he had all kinds of nagging things," said Bernstein. "I knew he needed his last race, and when he drew the rail, I told his jockey not to abuse him.
"I hope the strategy works," said Bernstein. "He's acting like his old self. He worked five furlongs in :58 the other day (a bullet at Santa Anita). He's really, really good again."
Bernstein was happy to see Unfurl the Flag, to be ridden again by Jon Court, draw post seven.
The last and only horse to win the Triple Bend twice in its 54-year history was Porterhouse in 1955 and 1956.
Northern California invader Trickey Trevor won the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) May 6 before running second in his last start, the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. III) in his last start, one length behind the red-hot Carthage. Russell Baze travels south to ride the 7-year-old Florida-bred son of Demaloot Deashoot for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Siren Lure comes off an impressive one-length win in the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park May 13 when switched from turf to dirt for trainer Art Sherman. The 5-year-old Joyeux Danseur gelding has won four of his last five starts and will be ridden again by Alex Solis while carrying top weight of 121 pounds.
Battle Won, who finished fifth, nearly five lengths behind Trickey Trevor, as the 5-2 choice in the Churchill Downs Handicap, makes his first start for trainer Mike Mitchell after a series of strong works.
Publication, who posted an impressive 2 1/4-length win in an optional allowance/claiming race May 20 at Hollywood in his first start in more than two years, continues on the comeback trail for trainer Vladimir Cerin. The 7-year-old gelding was second in the 2003 Triple Bend after winning the Arlington-Washinton Futurity (gr. II) as a 2-year-old.
Another 7-year-old gelding, English import Vortex, makes his U.S. debut for trainer Gay Kelleway. Vortex ran fifth at odds of 20-1 in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot less than two weeks ago.
"He has won 10 of 17 on the dirt and won the biggest European dirt race in Sweden (the 2004 Nickes Minneslopning Stakes at Taby)," said Kelleway of the son of Danehill. "He has been to Sweden and Japan, so he is well-traveled."
Vortex won the seven-furlong Criterion Stakes (Eng-III) at Newmarket last year.$300,000 Triple Bend Invitational Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 4:28 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Areyoutalkintome (CA), David Cohen, 116, 8/1
2. Thunder Touch (KY), Martin A. Pedroza, 112, 20/1
3. Publication (KY), David R. Flores, 118, 4/1
4. Trickey Trevor (FL), Russell A. Baze, 119, 7/2
5. Battle Won (KY), Victor Espinoza, 115, 6/1
6. Siren Lure (KY), Alex O. Solis, 121, 3/1
7. Unfurl the Flag (CA), Jon K. Court, 116, 6/1
8. Prorunner (KY), Garrett K. Gomez, 113, 15/1
9. Vortex (GB), Tyler Baze, 115, 15/1
10. Seattle Buddy (KY), Juan Ochoa, 113, 30/1