Niagara Causeway Back to Turf in Will Rogers

(from Hollywood Park notes)
Veteran trainer Ron Sticka seeks his first stakes victory when he sends out Niagara Causeway in the $100,000 Will Rogers Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf at Hollywood Park Sunday.

Sticka, 57, who trains a seven-horse stable, was optimistic the colt would appreciate a return to grass after two disappointing efforts on the main track, the most recent an eighth-place finish in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct on April 8.

"He's the nicest horse I've had in the ten years I've been up here," said Sticka of the well-bred colt by Giant's Causeway  out of the Theatrical mare Theoretically, runner-up in the 2000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I).

"He ran two good races on turf at Santa Anita last winter and broke his maiden on it, and we put him on dirt," said Sticka. "How smart are we?"

Sticka, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery in February 2005, is as happy to be healthy again as Niagara Causeway is to return to turf.

Sticka, a former assistant to John Gosden and trainer for Golden Eagle Farm at San Luis Rey Downs, was 32 before he shifted his work to the track. "I grew up in Montana and got a degree in business at Gonzaga," said Sticka, who worked in several businesses and became the owner of three horses in Montana.

"I thought training horses looked like a good deal in 1980," said Sticka with a laugh. "I started out that year at Longacres and went from an owner to a van driver to a groom to a hot walker."

Sticka worked at other tracks in the Northwest -- Portland Meadows, Yakima Meadows and Playfair -- before moving to California in 1983.

"My first job was at Los Alamitos as a groom for John Cooper and then I went to Del Mar as a hot walker for Wayne Murty," said Sticka, who later hooked on with the powerful Gosden stable at San Luis Rey Downs.

"I worked my way up to foreman and assistant trainer when we had horses like Alphabatim and Zoffany come through there," said Sticka. He stuck with Gosden until the noted trainer returned to England in 1988.

Sticka took out a trainer's license in 1989 and trained for Golden Eagle at San Luis Rey until 1996. He first conditioned Best Pal before he was turned over to Ian Jory on the track as a 2-year-old.

Sticka's San Luis Rey experience indirectly led to his acquiring Niagara Causeway. "In the late 1980s, owner Glenda Perryman wanted Charlie Whittingham to train a well-bred horse of hers," said Sticka. "She got a hold of Charlie's assistant at San Luis Rey, Bob St. Cyr. Bob told her he had no room but recommended that she send the horse to me. Unfortunately, the horse bowed.

"I lost contact with her for years, but out of the blue she called me in October, 2004, and said she had a yearling she bought out of the Tattersalls Sale," said Sticka. Perryman, who races under the name La Bahia Stud, lives in Burton, Texas.

New Joysey Jeff, also appreciating a return to grass after a 12th-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), blew out three furlongs on turf in :37 2/5 Thursday to the satisfaction of trainer Mark Glatt.

Corey County and Obrigado were both entered in the Will Rogers by trainer Neil Drysdale. Corey County is co-owned by Oklahoman Jim Nelson's Maple Ridge Bloodstock, for whose family Drysdale campaigned multiple stakes winner Both Ends Burning, winner of the 1984 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) when it was called the Hollywood Invitational Turf Handicap.

Obrigado, which means "thank you" in Portuguese, will make his first United States start after winning three of seven outings in France last year. Shawn Duggan, Drysdale's wife, purchased the gelding last fall for owners Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler.

Silver Crest, who finished a neck behind Corey County in a Hollywood allowance race on turf April 26, was supplemented for $2,000 by trainer Jim Cassidy for the Will Rogers.

Trainer David LaCroix, who entered Harry Henson Stakes winner Corazondelcampeon in the Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes at seven furlongs on the main track Saturday, cross-entered the colt in the Will Rogers to keep his options open for the weekend.

$100,000 Will Rogers Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 8, 4:50 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. New Joysey Jeff (KY), 115, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
2. Obrigado (FR), 115, Corey S. Nakatani
3. Stratham (IRE), 121, David Cohen
4. Niagara Causeway (KY), 117, Isaias D. Enriquez
5. Corey County (KY), 119, Victor Espinoza
6. Silver Crest (GB), 115, David R. Flores
7. Corazondelcampeon (FL), 115, Patrick A. Valenzuela